Downtown Apartment Life During Covid, Has Somebody Sneezed in that Elevator?

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A sign outside the MAC Properties leasing office urges people to follow social distancing while waiting.

By Kevin Collison

John Pryor has it better than many dealing with the unique living challenges posed for downtown apartment dwellers during the current Covid-19 crisis.

“It’s gives us a little more cabin fever,” said the Two Light resident and downtown business owner. “The apartments are extremely nice, but small for a family with a baby.

“For us, it’s not a big deal. My wife works on site and the grandparents live on site and take care of the baby.”

But for Pryor, like most downtown apartment residents, the amenities that make their buildings a more enjoyable place to live all have been closed for now due to the public health concerns prompted by the virus.

That means the entire eighth floor amenity level at Two Light, including the pool, outdoor deck, club room and fitness center.

And riding the elevator can be a source of some anxiety as well, despite the best efforts by the building owner, the Cordish Co., to keep it clean.

John Pryor (Photo by Nicole Bissey)

“Everybody is scared of the elevator,” Pryor said. “Nobody knows if someone sneezed before you got on.”

An estimated 25,000 people now live in greater downtown, according to the Downtown Council, many of them in apartment buildings.

While they share the hassles of all Kansas City residents when it comes to staying-in-place at home, they do have to venture out and share elevators, door handles and common areas.

“We’re working hard on all of this,” said Peter Cassel, director of community development for MAC Properties, which manages more than 1,500 apartments along the Armour Boulevard corridor.

“For the past couple weeks, we’ve been following the ever-changing government guidelines in terms of how we care for our buildings and how our office functions.

“Our primary focus is to keep things clean, wiping down elevator buttons, door knobs, etc. We’re making sure as our residents arrive home, they have a good, clean place to stay.”

When it comes to using elevators, MAC urges people to follow good social practices including touching buttons with covered skin and not crowding.

In a recent article in an apartment management trade journal, Multi-Family Executive, the emphasis was on sanitizing all public areas and commonly touched elements, and having plenty of hand sanitizers available in common areas.

“Most firms have canceled all resident events in the name of social distancing and closed amenities like pools and fitness center,” the article observed, “however, amenities like laundry rooms, pet relief areas, and playgrounds may require a different strategy.”

A party space is part of the amenities on the eighth floor at Two Light. (Photo by Kim Mueller)

Pryor said hand sanitizer has been placed throughout Two Light including by the elevators, mail room, concierge desk and entrances.

In an email statement, Cordish stated “the safety and well-being of our residents and employees at One Light and Two Light Luxury Apartments are of the highest importance to us.

“Among many measures, we have enhanced our already robust health and sanitation procedures, revised staffing levels and beefed up our virtual engagement in order to continue to provide the highest possible level of service in an environment that is healthy and safe for our residents and team members.”

The same precautions are in place for the 1,000 downtown apartments and lofts either managed or owned by KC Loft Central.

“We’ve increased the frequency of our interior cleaning to three times a day,” said John Bennett Jr. of KC Loft Central. “We had to close our amenity areas including the gyms and club rooms.

“For the most part, tenants are appreciative of the efforts we’re taking.”

Jared Campbell, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, is a resident of the 21 Ten condominium building. He said residents of the 52-unit building are staying in touch using social media.

“There’s a lot of discussion on our private Facebook group about helping neighbors if they need it,” he said. “I’ve also been hearing more people taking the stairs.”

Residents of Two Light and other downtown apartment buildings have been an important source of take-out business for restaurants during the Covid-19 shutdown.

At the historic Power & Light Apartments, there’s no access to the rooftop as well as the amenities including the gym being shut down.

“People have been cooperative,” said Katelyn Hershewe, a leasing specialist. “We’ve asked two each to use the elevator at one time and people have been cooperative.

“People have been mindful of social distancing and hand sanitizers.”

Hershewe, like other apartment leasing agents, also has been forced to do her work virtually. There are no physical tours, and many leasing offices are closed.

“All the apartments we’re working with throughout the city are all virtual and some are Facetiming,” said Christian Boveri of Boveri Realty.

“Everybody is doing digital tours,” Bennett said.

“It’s challenging and people understand. I think people aren’t going to be out apartment hunting in the next 30 days, but our apartment occupancy is high.”

David Johnson, a resident of the 1819 Baltimore condo building, said downtown seems a lonelier place with the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic.

“The level of activity outside has reverted to what it was like 10 years ago,” he said. It didn’t feel funny, but sad.

“We’ve worked hard to create a vibrant downtown but that’s been completely silenced the past week or two by the economic impact of this.”

One thing that hasn’t stopped because of Covid-19 restrictions is new construction including the latest apartment project MAC Properties is building, a 110-unit project at 520 E. Armour.

Pryor also has noticed the shift in atmosphere.

“People are social and extroverted and suddenly it’s a ghost town,” he said. “That’s disturbing to a lot of people.

“We can handle it, but there’s a lot of fear and anxiety.”

Emelyna Aurich, regional property manager for One Light and Two Light, also noted having a strong downtown residential population is helping keep other business afloat during the Covid shutdown.

“One of the benefits of being downtown, that remains the case, is the proximity of grocery, take-out and delivery food options,” Aurich said in a statement.

“Our residents and others downtown are taking advantage of that and playing a vital role in supporting the many downtown businesses that continue to work hard to stay open and remain viable through the current challenges.”

There’s also another comfort for many cooped-up apartment dwellers, their pets.

“Dogs are not Covid carriers,” Cassel said, “and people are glad to have their pets at home as a way of reducing the stress.”

(Editor’s note: Beginning in December 2019, CityScene KC has become a paid subscription publication)

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