City pitching River Market parking lots to developers

06/09/2014 11:52 AM

06/09/2014 11:52 AM

In what’s being praised as a fresh approach, city officials are testing the waters of potential streetcar-related development by offering two public parking lots as bait.

The Kansas City Planning Department recently sent developers a request for proposals that planners hope will lead to a couple of substantial apartment projects in the River Market.

The unusual proposition involves two city-owned parking lots on the southeast and southwest corners of Fifth and Main streets along the planned streetcar route. The city is asking developers to come back by July 18 with proposals for apartment projects on the lots.

Here’s the pitch made in the RFP: “The city owns the property, and is in a unique position to assist development by partnering with a creative developer to fashion a project to benefit the neighborhood and downtown Kansas City.”

Claude Page, the planner handling the solicitation, observed, “It’s the first time in a long while that the city has made this type of offer for residential development.

“We’ve had a couple of people contact us already who are interested in the idea.”

Though the city’s offer, two residential sites within a tomato-throw of the City Market, is appealing, it does have challenges. To qualify, prospective developers need to build apartments and first-floor retail.

And they not only have to provide parking for their apartment residents, but replace the parking that’s currently available for the City Market visitors. The city-owned lot on the southwest corner has 103 spaces; the one on the southeast corner has 55.

Still, most developers praised the city upping the ante on the streetcar investment by offering the parking lots for new construction.

They said, however, that because of the retail and replacement parking requirements, the city might have to donate the land and offer tax incentives to boot.

Jonathan Arnold praised the city for recognizing the potential for its underused property. Last week, his plan for a 300-unit, environmentally-friendly River Market apartment project called Second and Delaware was endorsed by the City Plan Commission.

“I think what the city is seeing is the vast majority of the historic buildings have been renovated and have developable sites, some of which the city owns, that could be put to better use,” Arnold said.

“The sites are in phenomenal locations. They should attract a lot of developers.… We’re ecstatic. The more residential gets built, the more vibrant the community becomes.”

George Birt, whose 137-unit development called River Market West is going up at 228 W. Fourth Street, is glad the city is appreciating the need for more density downtown.

“You’re beginning to see the impact of mass transit and the streetcar in development,” he said. “It’s been very successful in Denver.”

For the city to get what it wants, a project with retail and extra visitor parking, Birt said it’s going to have to go further.

“You’re going to have to come to the table with some incentives to plug that financial gap and make the project feasible,” he said.

Deb Churchill wears two hats. She is the president of the River Market Community Association and a partner at KC Commercial Real Estate. Her firm plans to build the 56-unit Centropolis apartment project at Fifth Street and Grand Boulevard.

“I think the development of those lots is good,” she said. “It’s something the city owes itself, due diligence to see what options are out there.

“It’s on the streetcar line and everybody is looking at ways to maximize that.… I’m sure we’ll put in our own bid.”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @kckansascity.

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