Developer Pitches Plan to Replace Oldest Building on Main with High-Rise

Developer Doug Price describes flaws with the historic Jeserich Building at 31st and Main to preservationist Vincent Gauthier.

(UPDATED Sept. 20: The City Plan Commission voted 5-1 to endorse landmark status for the 31st and Main properties. The proposed designation now goes to the full City Council for final review.)

By Kevin Collison

The owner of the historic Jeserich Building at 31st and Main, which the city wants declared a landmark, launched a charm offensive ahead of next weeks’s City Plan Commission review, but at least this Thursday tour group wasn’t buying.

“If you care about the character of this corner, it could easily be renovated into something  that’s consistent to the neighborhood, the city and the streetcar corridor,” said Vicki Noteis, board president of Historic Kansas City.

“There’s no particular purpose he wants to put this to, it’s the oldest building on the street.”

Noteis was part of a group that took up developer Doug Price’s offer to tour the Jeserich Building, which was built in 1888 and its neighboring structures: the Ward Building (1905), 3035-37 Main, and a building at 3039 Main (1990).

The developer purchased the buildings, along with a property around the corner at 6-10 E. 31st St. in an auction sale five years ago, and set the preservation community in action when he announced he planned to demolish them.

Doug Price would like to build a 30-story apartment building on the site of the old buildings he wants to demolish at 31st and Main. (Rendering from 31 Main)

The buildings had no local landmark status which would protect them, and in an unusual move, City Council members Katheryn Shields and Eric Bunch introduced an ordinance to have them declared landmarks without Price’s okay.

The only other time a building has been named a landmark without the owner’s cooperation  was Union Station. In June, the Historic Preservation Commission endorsed the designation and this Tuesday, the City Plan Commission will review the request.

The Plan Commission’s recommendation will then go to the full City Council for final consideration.

In addition to Noteis, Price invited Lisa Briscoe, Historic KC executive director; Councilwoman Shields; Mary Jo Draper, Historic KC vice president, and several others for a walk through of the old buildings.

“I thought it was the right thing to do so the public could see the buildings,” Price said. “I’m a full disclosure guy.”

Thieves have been stealing metal from the buildings to sell to scrap dealers, including gutting this rooftop air conditioner.

The Ward building still had counters remaining from its recent use as the Lufti’s Fried Fish, there even was a sign still posted seeking help. The middle building felt like a tacky 1990s design seminar and the old Jeserich’s three-floor interior had been remodeled for offices.

Throughout all the buildings, there was ample evidence thieves had been busy stealing metal to sell as scrap, even going up to the rooftop to gut the big air conditioners.

None of the tour members however, felt as though the buildings’ condition was beyond saving.

“Based upon being a historic preservationist, architect and planner, I’ve seen much worse,” Briscoe said.

But Price was adamant the old buildings were an obstacle to his grand plan for the corner. He wants to build a 30-story, 350-unit apartment tower that would overlook recreations of the historic buildings.

The developer’s plan calls for building a recreation of the existing buildings at the corner as part of his plan. (Rendering from 31 Main)

So why not keep the real things?

“In my opinion, most of the exteriors have been modified with commercial glazing, brick removal and the original limestone is falling down,” he said.

“There’s been enough modifications to the outside that nullifies some of the historic features and the inside has been completely gutted.”

The developer said a successful project at the corner also would have to be setback at least  6- to 8 feet to allow people to easily get on and off at the streetcar station planned for the corner.

The Historic Preservation Commission supported protecting the 134 year-old Jeserich Building and adjoining buildings at the corner of 31st and Main.

Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, said that’s not the case.

“No setback of the building would be required to accommodate the streetcar platform,” he said in a statement. “The platform will extend into what is now street and was designed with existing buildings and setbacks in mind.”

Other problems Price cited was the challenge of removing street art from the buildings, “the soft brick can’t be power washed, it’ll deteriorate,” and the need to establish a new sewer easement.

As to when he would like to begin his proposed high-rise, Price said it would have to wait until the streetcar becomes operational in 2025.

“I have to see it and hear it,” he said.

The developer added he wouldn’t seek tax incentives for his proposal and would set aside at least 20 percent of the units as affordable housing. He was particularly proud his project would not include any parking.

“The amenity is the streetcar,” he said. “Cars are for old people, like Facebook. Cars aren’t on the radar for 23 year-olds. I’m not going after the 55 year-olds.”

As for what he’d do if the buildings are declared landmarks, a designation that would prohibit demolition for at least three years, Price was more reserved.

“I don’t have an answer,” he said.

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  1. I like this plan, it’s certainly an improvement over the delipidated blight that exists there now. As for historic significance, the existing buildings are lacking.

  2. I totally oppose this plan by the owner/developer. I will be present at the City Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday to give my support through testimony for councilpersons Bunch and Shields proposal for listing on historic registry. I live a couple of blocks around the corner and love the architectural design of this building and look forward to its preservation instead of some ugly 30 story apt building that will destroy the overall history and architectural significance of the neighborhood and the people.

    • What would you propose instead? Because we need housing, specifically along the streetcar corridor. I agree, the 30 story rendering is ugly and overkill. But those four lots behind the building have been vacant since 2005 and that “historic” building is not generating any tax revenue.

      As far as destroying the “overall history and architectural significance,” most of the building is not original. If its the architectural aspect you’re worried about, the rebuild would be a remodel of that early 1900s style. There are buildings that are worth saving, I am just unsure as to why this one is?

      • I agree. I support selective historic preservation, but cities also need to grow. This particular corner doesn’t strike me as anything special, and the buildings aren’t even the original (and frankly, in my opinion, these buildings are ugly and also bland). So often I think “historic preservation” is simply a ruse to keep cities from growing or changing in any way. In clusters I think it can work well, like the Garment District, River Market, or Armour, especially if you add in individual infill buildings. I truly don’t understand the hysteria around this corner and this building in particular, though. I felt the same way about that dumb bank and enormous parking lot in Westport that got torn down for apartments that so many people tried to save.

        That said, the proposed building here is also completely out of scale for that neighborhood. Maybe something half that tall would be more appropriate.

  3. The rendering shown of the 30 story building isn’t something to write home about in my opinion but, the adjoining buildings of the Jeserich building aren’t either. The Jeserich building has redeeming qualities but the others, not so much. Hopefully a amicable solution can be had, possible preserving the Jeserich, demolishing its current sub par neighboring buildings, and adding a new structure built in harmony alongside.

  4. This is KC, there is not enough public transit options (even with the streetcar expansion) that would convince high income young people that they don’t need a parking space. It is safe to assume the rent will be around what One/Two Light charge? I am all for reducing the amount of space that parking takes up between Brush Creek and the Missouri River. Realistically, the folks who would be happy to give up their cars are those who NEED that extra money. Those would be Lower-Middle, to Middle Class people — which this project does not seem aimed at catering to.

  5. I attended the meeting this a.m. and gave testimony in favor of the proposal. It passed 5:1 and will now move on to City Neighborhood Development committee next week. Great testing by architect and engineer in favor of saving. Hallelujah!

  6. Is there any chance that this 30 story copy paste building with no parking just a rouse to make a 5 over 2 or 10 story project more palatable? Price has never built anything remotely close to this, to my knowledge.

  7. “The amenity is the streetcar,” he said. “Cars are for old people, like Facebook. Cars aren’t on the radar for 23 year-olds. I’m not going after the 55 year-olds.”

    HA! Nice attitude, pal!

  8. I don’t see how this is going to be successful, 350 units with no parking? I don’t know what crystal ball he is looking into but providing no parking for tenants who will no longer have vehicles in the future amongst the younger generation? This isn’t NYC, Kansas city is a metro city. What if they have friends in Overland Park, Lee
    Summit or else where and want to visit. What are they suppose to do take the bus or Uber a ride across town? If this was an apartment I was looking for and the leasing agent mentioned there is no parking with the property I would look at them like a deer in headlights, and say no thanks.

  9. The proposed apartment building is totally out of scale for the neighborhood and no parking should be a deal breaker. Kansas City covers 319 square miles. I can’t imagine living here without a car. Also, the building looks so out of place in midtown. We don’t need another glass and block apartment building. Please show some regard to the surrounding neighborhood and build something that blends in.

  10. In the Union Hill Neighborhood, we are proud of our community and the mix of ages. Not sure if Mr. Price is being deliberately obtuse or glib cause I don’t think he’s a stupid man but as utopian sounding as a 350 unit apartment building with no parking might sound, we all know that won’t work in Kansas City. Or is he figuring the surrounding communities can absorb all those cars? Nor is a 30 story building appropriate in this neighborhood. And sticking a fake historical fascade on a few stories of a gigantic building just looks silly.

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