By Kevin Collison
The red-brick building at the corner of the Crossroad Arts District‘s funkiest retail scene has been sold, leaving unclear the future of its creative collection of tenants including Birdies.
But for artist David Ford, whose run YJ’s Snack Bar for 20 years, the sale means good-bye to the whimsical, bohemian Crossroad scene he played a fundamental role in starting and nurturing.
He’s planning to relocate elsewhere in the downtown area.
“I have some sense of self,” Ford said. “Half the value of this building came from what I’ve been doing…The change is relatively profound and it’s been the investment of all my life.”
Dan Sight of Sight Realty has a contract to purchase the 19,000 square-foot building at the northeast corner of 18th and Wyandotte and along with his 29-year-old son, Spencer, plans to redevelop it. He expects the deal to close next month.
“Our intention is not to do anything for awhile and get a feel for the building,” Sight said. “There are a lot of businesses there that have been there a long time and we’re sensitive to that.”
The two-story building being sold to Sight by Paul Hilpman and Carol Crater has multiple storefront addresses: 116-130 W. 18th St. and 1715-17 Wyandotte. The current owners declined to comment.
Its eclectic tenants include: The Pearl theater, 1715 Wyandotte; Windhorse tattoo, 1717 Wyandotte; Oracle, 130 W. 18th; YJ’s Snack Bar, 128 W. 18th; Village Collection, 122 W. 18th; Peggy Noland, 124 W. 18th, and Birdies, 116 W. 18th.
In buying the building, Sight acknowledged it houses some popular tenants.
YJ’s traces its roots to 1927.
The initials stand for “Young Johnny’s,” according to Ford, adding that young Johnny Flynn was the son of a Kansas City Fire Department captain back in the Pendergast days.
While its decor is early hippie, YJ’s food has gotten rave reviews. The place was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”
Ford said he understands why the owners have decided to sell, but not this particular deal.
“Carol and Paul’s life is changing and their health is changing, and I want to respect that,” he said. “But they’re making a bad real estate decision.”
Ford said he’s managed the building and its tenants for the couple since the mid-1990s. He has a studio off the alley around the corner, and lives in a suite of rooms on the upper floor.
His home is filled with his paintings, artifacts, Mardi Gras decorations and the memories he’s collected over the years.
Ford laments what may become of the property.
“I’d like to see the building be a place for creative professionals, it’s been that way for 90 years,” he said.
“But I’m not up for fighting in the street for (money). If I can make a difference in another neighborhood, I will.”
He declined to identify his new location for now.
Birdies, which opened 16 years ago, is run by artist Peregrine Honig and features designer women’s lingerie and underwear.
Ford believes a recent decision by the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, a city development agency, that extended tax abatements intended to keep artists in the Crossroads had a role in what’s transpiring with the building.
“The way it was renewed is that new, creative professionals get a 100 percent tax break, but all of the original artists get 50 percent,” Ford said.
“It was originally intended to retain artists, now it’s subsidizing people coming in including sportscasters and advertisers where it was supposed to be artists.
“It scares the hell out of me the neighborhood is going that far.”
Architectural historian Elizabeth Rosin said the building is part of the historic Film Row area.
Designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, it opened in 1923 as the home of the Motion Picture Theater Owners of Kansas. A second level was added in 1929.
“It really stands apart from the other buildings in Film Row because of the red brick and Spanish influence,” Rosin said. “It’s the most significant corner intersection of Film Row.”
Sight has been a broker in the Kansas City area for 35 years, working mostly in Johnson County. His son, Spencer, has been active rehabilitating and selling houses.
“We’re going to join forces because the demographics down there is closer to his than mine,” Sight said.
“I’ve been a Johnson County developer and broker working with a lot of property that’s not extremely sexy,” he said. “I believe this property is one that melds my expertise with what my son is doing.”
Sight said the internal systems and “guts” of the 90-year-old building need substantial work. He added the 19,000 square-foot building has been underutilized with space that isn’t currently generating rent.
Suzie Aron, former chair of the Crossroads Community Association, and a longtime Crossroads advocate and property owner, is hopeful the change in ownership won’t alter the tenant mix that has done so much to create the district’s colorful identity.
“I’ve heard the tenants would like to stay and the neighborhood would like them to stay,” Aron said. “They have been a major part of our community for a long time.”
Sight comes from deep commercial roots in Kansas City. His grandfather started Sight Brothers Chevrolet at Linwood and Gillham Road in the 1920s.
“It’s fun to see what’s going on in the city,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be part of the excitement.”
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