The Conversation: Executive director of Power & Light District talks about the new residential boom in downtown KC

08/16/2014 7:00 AM

08/16/2014 6:22 PM

Nick Benjamin of Fairway is executive director of the Power & Light District, owned by the Cordish Co., a position he has held since 2009. Benjamin is originally from New Jersey. Before moving to Kansas City he practiced law in New York City and then lived in Baltimore, where Cordish is based, for a year and a half. This conversation took place in his office on the 30th floor of Town Pavilion.

What is different about living here than living on the East Coast?

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: The friendliness of Midwestern people is a really marked difference from the mentality of people in the Northeast. I also really like that Kansas City is dynamic.

Dynamic how?

It’s growing, and it’s progressing. The people that live here in general like living here and care about it and want to make it better.

Aside from the cold in January and the heat in August, the city has a lot going for it. There are a lot of entertainment options. Besides downtown, the Country Club Plaza is a really unique project. There are great suburban neighborhoods, and there’s a lot of culture.

Why do you live in Fairway?

When I first moved here, I lived in the River Market and then later in Westport. My wife is from Kansas City, and we like the neighborhood. There’s space, and it’s green, and it’s just 10 minutes from downtown.

During the World Cup, images of fans in the KC Live plaza of the Power & Light District were beamed all over the world during Team USA matches. Was the attention given to Kansas City greater than during the last World Cup?

Yes. They showed crowds in Kansas City four years ago but not to the same extent. We were at capacity outside and inside for all four games. We also got big crowds for the Mexico games and the other games, but the crowds for the U.S. games were a phenomenon.

Did you work to get ESPN to show live footage from KC Live?

We worked on it, and I can’t say enough what a great partner Sporting Kansas City was. They have great relationships with ESPN, and the combination of our venue and the smarts and relationships at Sporting is how we ended up getting what we got.

You have a great view from up here. I’m looking down on the Jones Pool, but it looks like a construction zone. What’s going on over there?

We are three months into construction of One Light luxury apartments. It is the first high-rise market-rate apartment building in the history of downtown Kansas City.

What does that mean?

It means there was one high-rise condo tower built and two other high-rise apartment buildings that had affordable housing components. But there has never been a high-rise luxury apartment building built from scratch in downtown Kansas City.

How many stories will it have?

Twenty-five. There will be 315 rental units, ranging from 580-square-foot studios to 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom units and 1,300-square-foot penthouses. It will open in October 2015.

How much are the rents?

From $900 to $3,400.

Do you think you’ll find enough tenants to fill it?

We had a groundbreaking event in April, and we launched the website, OneLightKC.com, but we haven’t done any marketing yet — we’re getting ready to start a marketing campaign — but so far we have 500 people on a list of prospective tenants.

It’s a great moment for downtown. The downtown residential population has quadrupled over the last 10 years, but there’s 98 percent occupancy. There’s a lot more demand than supply right now. Based on the response to the first tower, we are accelerating our plans for a second tower.

How will that influx of residents affect the P&L district?

It’s huge. It’s 450 people that will be buying groceries at Cosentino’s and seeing movies at Alamo Drafthouse, and eating and drinking in the restaurants on the weekend.

We are on the cusp of another explosion in the residential population of downtown. I believe there are 4,000 units planned that are in development from First Street to 31st Street to open by the end of 2016. There’s a plan to convert the Power & Light Building to residential, and we’ll be building three other towers in the district. Those new residences will create more demand for offices downtown and continue the virtuous cycle.

When are we going to get some bigger hotels so we can get the conventions back?

(Laughs.) I hope soon. We have so much to offer conventioneers. I think a high-rise luxury-format hotel would do great downtown. We’ve just got to figure out how to get one here.

To reach Cindy Hoedel, call 816-234-4304 or send email to choedel@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/cindyhoedel and on Facebook.

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