By Kevin Collison
The Union Berkley Riverfront apartments, the first new project on the downtown riverfront since a push to clean up and redevelop the area began in the 1970s, had its grand opening recently.
Mayor Sly James, members of Port KC, formerly the port authority, and dozens of others saluted the culmination of decades of work in an event staged on a pickle ball court in the $72 million development courtyard.
“This is exactly the kind of thing that proves Kansas City has tremendous momentum,” James said. “There was nothing here eight years ago, no built environment.”
Ryan Cronk, vice president of development, said it took six years from initial conversations with Port KC to the opening of the 410-unit project. Actually, half the apartments are available now, the remainder will be about Aug. 1.
Cronk said about 100 of the apartments have been leased so far, and new leases are coming at a rate of 15 per week.
The developer said his firm already has approached Port KC about additional projects in the Berkley Riverfront Park area.
“We want to do more residential and more commercial space,” he said. “A second project would have about 200 units and we could continue to build commercial space.”
The Kansas City Streetcar Authority, with the financial support of Port KC, is planning to extend the streetcar route from the River Market to the Berkley Riverfront Park, directly serving the Union apartments.
Cronk welcomed that plan.
“We came here originally without it,” he said, “but we really want it for the longterm success of the neighborhood.”
Not far from the Union project, Bar K, a new-concept dog park, cafe and bar is under construction, and an Omaha developer is pursuing a 60-unit affordable apartment project nearby as well.
The grand opening rekindled memories of how the River Market was not long ago, and the historic importance of the riverfront area dating back to Kansas City’s founding in the first part of the 19th Century.
Dana Gibson, Port KC chairman and a longtime River Market developer, said that neighborhood has grown from just 20 people in the early 1980s to over 2,500 now, with hundreds more soon to join them at the Union apartments.
Gibson joked the River Market and Columbus Park neighborhoods both had claimed the riverfront area as their turf, and finally flipped a coin and decided to share it. He also believes Union is the first residential project on the riverfront in 135 years.
Cronk said the name ‘Union’ was decided to honor a 19th Century hotel that once stood on the bluffs overlooking the river, the Gillis House. It also was known as the Union.
“Theres such history here and building the first project was important to us,” he said.
The new complex includes a 443-space garage and 12,400 square feet of retail space. Port KC is relocating its offices there, and the developers hope to attract a restaurant.
Resident amenities include a first floor coffee shop; a resort-style heated saltwater pool; a bike lounge that includes ping pong and a beer tap; 20,000 square feet of outdoor courtyard space, and a demonstration kitchen and group dining area.
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