VanTrust Real Estate is coming to the rescue of the East Village, an ambitious redevelopment plan that has struggled since being conceived eight years ago in the heyday of downtown revival.
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star
VanTrust, one of the Kansas City area’s largest developers, has agreed to join Swope Community Builders as co-developers of an eight-block area east of Ilus W. Davis Park. The first project planned by the two firms is a 180-unit apartment building and 270-space garage on the site of the old J.E. Dunn Construction headquarters at 10th and Holmes streets.
Dave Harrison, the president of VanTrust, said his firm ultimately would like to develop up to 600 apartments on the north half of the East Village site and modern office space on the south side. The apartments would join a growing list of downtown housing projects.
The scale of development moving forward at the East Village would be low-rise, with four-story apartment and office buildings roughly the size of the five-story J.E. Dunn headquarters that opened in 2009 at 11th and Locust streets. Substantial landscaping and other urban amenities are planned as well.
“The idea is for a horizontally mixed-use community for office and multifamily with a splash of retail,” Harrison said Monday. “With its proximity to the Power & Light District and federal, city and county offices, we think it’s a very viable solution in utilizing the property.”
VanTrust’s involvement in the East Village is considered a breakthrough for the faltering project. VanTrust was founded by Cecil Van Tuyl, who made his fortune in the auto dealership business. Van Tuyl died last year at age 85.
VanTrust’s local development roster includes such major apartment projects as Mission Farms in Overland Park and a 176-unit development being built at 51st and Main streets in Kansas City. VanTrust also completed the Plaza Vista project for the Polsinelli law firm and built new headquarters for AMC Entertainment Inc. and Freightquote.com Inc.
“I’m honored and tinkled pink,” E. Frank Ellis, the chairman and CEO of Swope Community Enteprises, said. “I wish we would have met sooner.”
“I’m excited about the co-development agreement and the opportunity to reinvigorate if not rebrand the entire area.”
Swope Community Builders was designated developer of the East Village in 2005 in the waning years of Mayor Kay Barnes’ administration. The development was viewed as a complement to what the Power & Light District, the Sprint Center and H&R Block’s headquarters had done to revive the South Loop area of downtown.
The city spent $12 million to help acquire and demolish properties , including the Cherry Street Inn and the former Greyhound bus terminal. But while J.E. Dunn completed its headquarters as part of the East Village plan, Swope struggled to execute its vision for 1,200 residences and office space.
To date, the only project Swope has completed is a 50-unit affordable apartment project at 950 Holmes St. that opened in 2011. It was built next to a three-level garage developed separately for the Federal Aviation Administration building.
The new East Village envisioned by VanTrust would comprise market-rate apartments geared toward young adults and modern office buildings with the larger floor sizes and amenities that would appeal to companies that now shun downtown for the suburbs.
“It’s the major missing piece, and it’s a blank slate,” said Thomas R. McGee Jr., VanTrust’s vice president for development. “Dave has a history of developing office buildings for corporate users and knows what they’re looking for.”
VanTrust also has deep pockets and has shown in the past it can move quickly when opportunities arise.
Steve Dunn, the president of J.E. Dunn Construction, praised VanTrust’s entry into the East Village.
“We’re very excited to see some development on our old headquarters site,” he said. “I think it’s great that Dave and Frank are working together and can’t wait for it to get started.”
Harrison and Ellis said additional blocks will be developed gradually in the East Village according to market demand. Not all the properties have been acquired in the development zone, and the revised plan could require additional city financial assistance, but details remain to be worked out.
If the city gives all the necessary approvals, work on the first 180-unit apartment development would start next summer with completion in early 2016. No price was attached to the project, but it is roughly the same size as the $39 million development at 51st and Main streets.
Harrison said VanTrust has an eye on additional projects in the greater downtown area.
The downtown apartment market is hot these days with 95 percent occupancies and several new projects in the works, including a 311-unit high-rise planned for 13th and Walnut; the renovation of the historic Folgers Coffee plant at Seventh Street and Broadway into 151 apartments; and a new 137-unit development in the River Market.
“I think we have a window where we need to make a strong push for office and multifamily residential and significant retail,” Harrison said.
“If we tee up the appropriate projects, capital and take appropriate risk, we’re comfortable the market will embrace it.”