River Market Parking Woes Prompt Plan Commission to Oppose Apartment Tower

The 300-unit City Harvest apartment project is proposed for Fifth and Main just west of the City Market. (Rendering from KEM STUDIO)

By Kevin Collison

The proposed City Harvest apartment tower by the City Market, a City Hall priority for three years, stumbled over the ongoing challenge of parking in the area this week at the City Plan Commission.

The Plan Commission voted 4-3 to recommend denial of the 300-unit project after hearing from River Market merchants and residents who said the 110 public parking spaces that would be lost at the site would exacerbate an already difficult situation.

“City parking is one of our most valued and important community assets,” said Arthur Leduc, owner of KC Taco Co. at 520 Walnut.

“The community and its surrounding businesses must have ample parking in order to survive. It’s basic.”

The Plan Commission recommendation will now go to the City Council which has the final say on the proposal.

City officials and Port KC have sought to develop what’s now a public parking lot just west of the City Market at Fifth and Main since early 2020. Flaherty & Collins, an Indianapolis developer with local experience, was chosen following a request for proposals (RFP).

The original RFP required the developer to replace the 160 spaces that would be lost due to the project, but that requirement was dropped during negotiations. The plan now calls for a 260-space garage with 20 spaces open to the public.

The City Harvest project would be built on this city-owned 160-space parking lot west of the City Market.

Another 28 spaces will be available on Main Street which would be reopened between Third and Fifth streets as part of the development.

City officials, including City Manager Brian Platt and the city planning staff, advocated for the project, saying it was the kind of density needed downtown. They noted the development would be next to the current River Market streetcar stop.

But River Market business owners and residents said their area needs parking to remain vibrant. They pointed out that not only their customers, but their employees needed to be able to park. Most drive to the City Market from outlying areas.

“There’s been limited conversation with the neighborhood that would be radically affected by this and other planned developments,” said James Freeman, an attorney representing property owners.

“The staff report, rather than addressing parking, simply glosses over the potential devastating impact of the project.”

There are also concerns that other River Market apartment projects being contemplated for what are currently public parking lots at Third and Grand, and on the south side of Fifth and Main will further aggravate the situation.

“We’ve always looked to have the three parking lots in City Market developed as long you weren’t losing parking,” said Scott Tanos, a resident.

“We’re not looking to increase parking, but to maintain the public parking for the residents and workers there.”

A view of the City Harvest project looking south from the small park in the City Market. (Rendering by KEM STUDIO)

For their part, the developers said the 13-story City Harvest project was designed in response to the specifications set out by the city. The development also is required to reserve 20 percent of the units as affordable.

They pointed out the parking situation in the River Market was a larger issue than their proposed $95.6 million project.

“We’re obviously surprised and a little disappointed,” said Ryan Cronk, vice president of Flaherty & Collins.

“We didn’t create this plan overnight. It’s aligned with a lot of the city’s goals. I think the response was more of a global issue and not our project specific.

“There’s a lot of varying opinions about the long-term parking strategy on the riverfront.”

For the City Plan Commission, the fierce debate over parking was a bit of deja vú.

In early December, the commission unanimously endorsed a plan by Mac Properties for a 300-unit development at Main and Armour that was opposed by the neighborhood over parking. It also would be next to a planned streetcar stop.

The 1 West Armour project had 193 parking spaces, and neighbors said it it would be make the competition for street parking even more difficult. The Mac plan ultimately was approved by the City Council last month.

This time however, the commercial parking challenges of the River Market tipped the recommendation the other way.

Commissioner Tyler Enders, who owns a Made in KC café at Fifth and Delaware, said parking in the area already was a huge problem. He voted to deny the plan.

The proposed apartment tower would be located on a city-owned parking lot just west of the City Market. (Image from developer presentation)

“In my opinion, at least five local businesses would not survive the construction because 160 spots for two years, that’s just a ton of customers,” he said.

Another opponent, Commissioner Ashley Sadowski said that while the streetcar is an asset, it doesn’t address the needs of most people coming to the River Market.

“This particular site is already a regional destination so you’re already assuming somebody is coming by car,” she said.

“We’ve never heard how people are moved from a car across the region to another mode of transportation to get to a more walkable neighborhood.”

James Baker, who supported the City Harvest plan, noted the developers had presented a proposal that met the city’s description and included 60 affordable apartments.

“We don’t want to lose affordable housing,” he said.

“That’s the trade off we have to struggle with, garage parking is $30,000 to $40,000 a stall. With a couple of those, you get an affordable housing unit.

“We as a commission and community as a whole need to understand the cost of parking, it’s not free. It costs a lot to build and maintain garages, and a lot of those garages take the place of where new residents can be.”

Commissioners voting to deny the City Harvest plan were Sadowski, Enders, Forestine Beasley and Bruce Allender. Voting in favor were Baker, Coby Crowl and Paul Rojas.

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  1. The City Market serves the entire Kansas City area, not just the River Market. There has always been a shortage of parking on the weekends. The City Market is also a major tourist draw for visitors who come by car. If the city plans to take away more parking, then the Historic City Market will become a wasteland again. Apparently no one has done a study to see how many parking spaces are utilized during the week or how often the spaces turn over. It’s great that they want to make the River Market a “walking community” however “walking communities” seem to only serve local residents. Adding another 400 people to the community is great, but replace the parking spaces if you want to build on our city owned lots.

  2. Have none of these people ever been to a real city that was developed before cars became our #1 priority in development? The neighborhoods with the most density and least amount of parking tend to be the most vibrant. One of the reasons this also doesn’t resonate with me is because I also know people are just super lazy, and if they can’t park directly in front of where they’re going, they don’t want to go. I drive to River Market regularly (often for dinner on Friday nights), and I’ve never spent more than about 5 minutes looking for parking. Literally not once. Do I sometimes have to walk a couple of blocks? Yes, but I’m fine with that.

    • You said the magic word “evening”. Most of the businesses are local, family owned. They are home in the evening. Hence the abundance of parking. If the apartments want to make all their parking first-come, first-served, than that’s a whole different can of worms. Look at any photos of the River Market from the past fifty years and they will be filled with cars. This is Kansas City people like to drive everywhere. Nothing wrong with that. They are not going to Uber just to eat or shop in the River Market because of limited parking. My customers are mostly families. They don’t want to park far away and neither do older folks.

      • As someone who has often driven thirty minutes to the River Market… I only ever look for street parking and I always find a spot, even on the busiest days. I haven’t ever parked in the parking lot in question, on any day or time of the week. Sure, I see folks parked there, but it’s never brimming with cars or anything. It wouldn’t bother me to see it gone. River Market isn’t so desperate for parking that losing these spaces will send the neighborhood into chaos and disrepair.

        I agree that in KC there aren’t a lot of alternatives for driving. But does that really mean we have to keep it that way forever? Won’t hundreds of new residents in River Market increase business even as you lose parking spots – that spend most of their time empty anyway? IMO there is something wrong with driving everywhere if not all of us want to drive everywhere, but we have to anyway, because we design our city to make it convenient and appealing for cars instead of people. I don’t want to take anyone’s right to drive away or inconvenience anyone, but I also don’t like that every other block downtown, all I see is the grey asphalt of another empty surface parking lot or half-empty public parking garage that someone somewhere insists they can’t live without.

      • “Look at any photos of the River Market from the past fifty years and they will be filled with cars.” So? That just means that land has been underutilized and wasted for a long time. River Market was also a complete wasteland until a couple of decades ago. What’s your point?

        “This is Kansas City people like to drive everywhere. Nothing wrong with that.” Nothing wrong with that in your opinion, but not mine. I think there’s a lot wrong with that. Why is their opinion more important?

        “They are not going to Uber just to eat or shop in the River Market because of limited parking.” Why not? That’s their choice, regardless, I have no say over what they do. People do things like that in real cities. It’s all about expectations.

        “My customers are mostly families. They don’t want to park far away and neither do older folks.” Well…sorry? I’m sure most of those people don’t live anywhere near River Market, and I do, and I want a more dense, walkable neighborhood that’s more pedestrian-friendly. Why should their desires be prioritized over mine? Even if they do live close, it’s still a preference and I’m not sure why their preferences are more important than mine. Not to mention, as someone else pointed out, the more density and residents and foot traffic you have, the more customers you potentially have.
        You’re not making very convincing arguments.

        If people need direct storefront parking everywhere they go, there are hundreds of square miles of suburbs where they can have that that. Downtown and River Market should be dense, urban, and maximize their land use.

  3. Number one, if you look at downtown Kansas City from the air, the majority of the land is taken up by parking spots. That’s an absurd situation. The most valuable land in the city, close to many of our regions major employers and entertainment spots, should not be lots that sit empty most of the time. Beyond that the bigger issue is that the center of a major city should have enough public transit options that most people don’t need to park.

  4. I don’t know if Kansas Citians like to drive everywhere, but they’re often forced to because the city has been hollowed out to accommodate car dependence.

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