Plans for a major YMCA in downtown Kansas City seem about as solid as any endeavor of this size can be. The clout of UMB Bank is behind the project and some pledges are already lined up, including $1 million from the Kirk Family Foundation.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
After the YMCA announced its sweeping strategic plan last week that included building a 100,000-square-foot facility at 10th Street and Grand Boulevard by 2016, Phil Kirk, the retired chairman of DST Realty, called to say his family foundation has stepped up to help with a three-year pledge.
Kirk already has been advising David Byrd, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, and was impressed with how the North Carolina native has reinvented the area Y since his arrival three years ago. Byrd came here after helping the YMCA in Nashville, Tenn., eith an $80 million capital improvement campaign that included expanding its downtown Y.
I believe David Byrd is wonderful the way he is re-orienting the Y toward a more intensive look at its charitable mission statement, moving to the center of the city and rebuilding, Kirk said.
Kirk, who is considered one of the godfathers of downtown Kansas Citys rejuvenation, added that he has raised a couple of other lead gifts that he couldnt disclose. The other Kirk brothers at the foundation are Frank, who is on the YMCA board, and Mike.
Adding to the air of confidence about the YMCA proposal is the support of UMB.
The bank not only has a deal with the Y to purchase what is now a surface parking lot used by its employees, but Peter DeSilva, president and operating officer, and one of the citys more popular civic leaders, will have a key role in the fundraising effort.
Peter will be directly involved in seeing it through, J. Mariner Kemper, CEO of UMB Financial Corp., said last week.
On other matters downtown, the organization bearing its name hosted a wide-ranging panel discussion last week at its monthly luncheon.
Talking to the Downtowners group were Jon Copaken, co-director of Copaken Brooks, a major downtown property owner and manager; Gib Kerr of Cassidy Turley, who specializes in downtown real estate including the historic Kansas City Power & Light Building, and Gary Hassenflu, a developer whose projects include the renovating the massive Cold Storage Building in the River Market into apartments.
One of the bigger conclusions was that the state historic tax credit program now under threat of major cuts in Jefferson City was and remains a huge contributor to downtown revitalization.
Without those tools you wont see anything happening in downtown, Kerr said.
Hassenflu, who is using the program to renovate the historic Meriden Creamery Co. building at 2100 Central St. into apartments and offices, said the state historic tax credit when combined with the federal program reimburses developers about 40 cents on every dollar spent in redevelopment costs.
Its a critical tool, he said. With the low rents paid in Kansas City, you need that incentive. There are still buildings in the central business district to be redeveloped and certainly a lot of buildings remaining in the West Bottoms. We need to keep it going to achieve critical mass downtown.
Copaken said while no new office developments have been built downtown the past five years, his firm has had success attracting tenants to two major office towers it runs, the 30-story 1201 Walnut building and the 38-story Town Pavilion. Over the past few years, Town Pavilion has gone from half empty to 90 percent occupied and 1201 is up to 85 percent occupied.
In the meantime, Copaken said two major development sites controlled by his firm, the block along Grand Boulevard north of the Sprint Center, and a stretch of properties along Broadway near the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, remain available when and if the market returns for new construction.
Copaken said one of the biggest things that could help attract more companies and tenants downtown would be for city government to foster a more business-friendly environment. The difficulty in dealing with the City Hall bureaucracy, particularly its planning and permits process, has been a source of much griping over the years.
We need to concentrate on making government more efficient and friendly, he said.
Other things the city can do are to continue improving the physical environment of downtown, including curbs, streets and other infrastructure. And while the planned streetcar project scheduled to begin work this summer is being welcomed, all of the panelists said parking will remain a huge requirement for the foreseeable future.
Most old properties that need to be redeveloped all have parking issues, Kerr said. The biggest challenge is finding economical parking solutions.