Here’s testament to the multi-use nature of Kansas City’s City Market: It’s the area’s sixth-largest tourist attraction as well as its largest collection of vendors who accept food stamps.
From year-round sightseers to residents seeking low-cost produce, the district between Third and Fifth streets has garnered renewed strength thanks to far more than shoppers crowding farmers’ food stalls on weekends.
Claude Page, a senior city planner, recently reported on the city-owned property to the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, which signed a tenant lease with the city in 1989. At that time, the market’s historic buildings were crumbling, customers were scarce and the city was subsidizing its operations to the tune of $600,000 a year.
No longer. Page told the expansion authority board that the market’s seven buildings and five parking lots are “doing very well.” He said its 150,000 square feet of leasable space is 98 percent occupied, it is “signing lots of tenant renewals” and its $1.4 million operating budget requires no city subsidy.
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Through a $5 million bond package sold about 18 months ago, he said, maintenance and other upgrades have been made to building roofs and windows and the 146 open-air farmers’ stalls at the core of the market square.
“It now attracts a great mix of ethnicity, incomes and race,” Page said, adding that the new streetcar line, which makes a U-turn at the north end of the City Market, is expected to expand foot traffic along with continued growth in downtown and River Market area housing. The City Market property itself includes eight market-rate apartments for which there is a waiting list.
Page said goals for the market include attracting a butcher shop, a seafood vendor and a larger liquor store and bulking up the market’s concert schedule, which has proved to be profitable.
The Planned Industrial Expansion Authority has subcontracted day-to-day management and leasing of the City Market to KC Commercial Realty Group since 2012. That contract runs through 2016. All of the City Market businesses are individually owned and operated.
The market’s financial turnaround stemmed from work undertaken in the 1980s to convert from a wholesale to retail operation. The expansion authority at that time sold bonds to finance the transition, and the city repaid the bonds over time.
The upgrades in the late 1980s and early 1990s took a $14.5 million investment from public and private sources. One of the biggest improvements was attracting the popular Arabia Steamboat Museum to locate on the east side of the market square.
City Market improvements also have been aided by a nonprofit organization, Friends of the City Market, which was founded in 2004 to promote the area. The district also has a City Market Oversight Committee that meets quarterly and essentially acts as the property’s board of directors to set goals and guidelines.