By Kevin Collison
Fourteen years after it began redeveloping dozens of historic buildings along Armour into market-rate apartments, Mac Properties is now striving to create a village in the new Midtown neighborhood its created.
“The pandemic made it clear how important social connections are,” said Peter Cassel, Mac director of community development.
“We wanted to move from being a neighborhood to being a community and to bring additional tools to foster community.”
Mac has hired Venn, an Israeli firm, to help build that village through traditional means such as organized activities and a new smartphone app that allows residents to keep up with the latest events, and on a pragmatic note, schedule a service appointment.
“I grew up on a kibbutz,” said Chen Avni, one of three Venn “hosts” assigned to Mac’s Kansas City properties. “I’m implanting lessons from the kibbutz in the city to foster community.”
Back in 2007, when Mac began its “go big” approach to revitalization, the stretch of Armour between Main and roughly Cherry street was in rough shape and on a downward slide.
Many of the stately, brick former apartment-hotels dating back to the 1920s were either vacant or poorly maintained for federal low-income housing programs, and crime was a problem.
The Chicago-based firm, with the help of tax incentives, bought and renovated almost a dozen buildings to start, convinced that it needed to change the perception of the entire area to make more people want to live there.
Now, the stretch of Armour from Broadway to Cherry has had 30 buildings restored with 1,500 apartments housing an estimated 3,000 people, the size of many small towns in Kansas and Missouri.
Cassel described the evolution of Armour as introducing a “new middle” of residents in a neighborhood previously divided between home owners and low-income renters.
Mac also is building an additional 450 apartments at the intersection of Armour and Troost, has plans for a mixed-use project with over 300 apartments at Armour and Main, and is about to open a 110-unit apartment building at 520 E. Armour.
Venn has had experience building apartment communities in Tel Aviv, Berlin and Brooklyn, and the new Mac + Venn partnership in Kansas City could eventually include other Mac Properties apartment investments in Chicago and St. Louis.
“We want our residents to put down roots in our communities,” Eli Ungar, founder of Mac Properties, said in a statement. “Offering them ways to build, strengthen and ultimately customize their neighborhoods is a key factor.”
Last Saturday, Mac + Venn held a “Summer on Armour” event that included a wellness session, food trucks and vendors, live music and other performances to encourage residents to get together.
Residents also now have a “Life at Venn” mobile app that helps them find opportunities to join groups for cooking, yoga and other activities, sell goods, offer services, keep up with neighborhood news and schedule appointments with management for repairs.
“Belonging requires participation,” Or Bokobza, Venn co-founder and CEO, said in a statement.
“Everything Venn does–resident and partner technology, custom space design, local experts and programming–is all focused on connecting residents to the neighborhoods around them.”
There’s also a very pragmatic business side to making people feel they’re part of a community.
“There’s a link between participation by people and the likelihood of them staying,” Avni said.
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