By Kevin Collison
The 909 Walnut building, the iconic, bunny-eared skyscraper that jumpstarted the 21st Century revival of the downtown housing market, is up for sale, asking price $49 million.
The 35-story historic tower and Ninth and Walnut, the tallest residential building in the Midwest outside Chicago, was among the ranks of empty former office buildings in downtown Kansas City when Texas developer Glenn Solomon bought it in 2000.
His original plan was to return the former Fidelity National Bank & Trust Building to office use. But inspired by then Mayor Kay Barnes and her push to revive downtown, Solomon, with the help of deep-pocketed Kimberly-Clark Corp. opted for residential instead.
“I saw all of the effort and energy the Kansas City Council and Kay Barnes were putting into making downtown Kansas City a great place,” Solomon said.
“I don’t think a lot of downtowns have been as successful as Kansas City the last 15 years.”
The city also went all in, changing its rules on property tax abatements by providing a 25-year, 100 percent tax break instead of the usual 10 years at 100 percent and 15 at 50 percent. State and federal historic tax credits also were major contributors to its financing.
As a sign of the times, the original address of the building was changed from 911 Walnut St. to 909 because of concern the then-fresh memory of the 9/11 terrorist attack would hamper its marketing effort.
The $64 million redevelopment project opened in October 2005. It included 159 luxury apartments and 55,000 square feet of office space on the lower four levels. An eight-story garage was built next door that featured a lush rooftop garden.
The original plan was to begin converting 909 Walnut into condominiums after five years, but the Great Recession of 2008 got in the way.
Solomon said only about seven units were sold including the multi-million dollar two-story penthouse unit at the very top which includes one of the two towers.
“Not that there weren’t buyers, they couldn’t get financing during the downturn,” he said.
Now the building’s apartments are 91.5 percent leased at an average monthly rent of $1,735, according to Institutional Property Advisors, the firm marketing the property. Its office space is fully occupied by EPR Properties which has a lease through 2026.
The building was designed in the Art Deco-Gothic Revival style and opened in 1931 at a cost of $2.85 million. Two years later, the bank went under during the Depression.
In 1946, the building was bought by the federal government. The last federal workers moved out in 1995.
Eighty-seven years after its completion, it remains Kansas City’s fifth tallest building. The deadline for submitting bids for 909 Walnut is Feb. 28.
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Some additional photos of the historic building exterior and model apartments, photos by Jacia Phillips: