By Kevin Collison
Construction is expected to begin soon on the $68 million West Bottoms Flats apartment development, the first major renovation project in the downtown warehouse district that fueled Kansas City’s economic growth in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
MCM Company plans to renovate three historic buildings on the north side of the West Bottoms: the Abernathy, 1501 W. Ninth St.; the Liberty, 912 Liberty, and the Wyoming, 925 Wyoming, into 265 market-rate apartments.
The Bemis building at 937 Wyoming will become a 201-space garage.
Melissa Ferchill, the founder and owner of the Cleveland-based company, first became familiar with Kansas City visiting her college boyfriend here during the summers.
“I think there’s a ton of potential (in the West Bottoms),” she said. “We love it there and city is very development friendly and pro-growth.”
MCM purchased the properties in February 2016.
Since then, it’s been seeking the incentives required to make the deal work financially and Thursday the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority approved a sales tax exemption on construction materials.
Attorney Jerry Riffel said one of the last “pieces of the puzzle” was obtaining approval for the necessary state historic tax credits. The state and federal historic credits are raising $20 million for the deal. It also has a 13 year property tax abatement.
The incentives are necessary because of the age and condition of the massive brick buildings and the extensive renovation work required.
The Abernathy and Liberty Buildings were historically home to the Abernathy Furniture Company. The Abernathy dates to 1880 with additions in 1890, 1900 and 1905. The Liberty was built in 1900.
The Wyoming and Bemis Buildings were historically home to the Bemis Bag Co. The Wyoming was built in 1904 with an addition in 1910, and the Bemis was completed in 1920.
Those buildings, plus scores of others, formed the historic industrial heart of Kansas City a century ago. In documentation accompanying its PIEA application, the West Bottoms was described as the original downtown.
“The area capitalized on the industrial revolution of the railroad industry becoming a distribution hub for mid-western cattle around the nation allowing smaller industries such as seed warehouses, furniture stores and household products to prosper,” according the application.
The decline of the West Bottoms was hastened by devastating floods in 1903 and 1951. Today, the area is a hodgepodge of active industrial uses, artists lofts, antique shops and other commercial uses.
It’s also beginning to attract substantial investment.
The Hy-Vee Arena, formerly the Kemper, is nearing completion of a $39 million renovation as an amateur sports complex. The Yards, a $41 million, 232-unit apartment project is under construction nearby.
But until the West Bottom Flats, the massive old brick industrial buildings have been relatively untouched. Ferchill said she likes to be a pioneer when it comes to development.
“We do a lot of emerging-area projects,” she said. “I like the idea of paving the way.”
She also praised the state historic tax credit program.
Other factors drawing her to Kansas City include its steady job growth, its underserved downtown housing market and the city having the most “unique vibe” of any major community between Chicago and Denver.
The West Bottom Flats units will range from smaller “micro-apartments” renting at under $1,000, to one-bedroom units going for $1,200- to $1,300. There also will be some two-bedroom apartments as well.
And in a unique twist, residents will enjoy valet parking in the old Bemis building. Because of its interior layout, elevators will be installed to hoist cars to their parking spaces.
Other amenities will include courtyards, rooftop patios, bike storage, bocce ball courts, grilling patios and an outdoor theater. The project also includes 10,000 square feet of retail space.
Construction is expected to begin in 30 days with completion in late 2019. The architect is BNIM, the contractor is Rau Construction.
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