In an earlier time, the Mark Twain Tower in downtown Kansas City was home to the Kansas City Athletic Club and later the Playboy Club, the local version of the nightclub first popularized in Chicago during the 1960s.
Those facts, along with its seventh-floor tile swimming pool, add to the odd intrigue of the historic building at 106 W. 11th St. that once served as the Continental Hotel.
Despite those quirks, the building in recent years has had a difficult time as an office tower; earlier this year, it had less than 20 percent occupancy.
An investor group called HH KC Mark Twain LP bought the building earlier this year. That group now has a plan in excess of $50 million to convert the 204,000-square-foot building into a 154-unit apartment project in keeping with the ongoing boom of multifamily development in the urban core and elsewhere in the area.
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The planned project would also include 10,000 square feet of ground-level retail, likely a restaurant.
Greg Banta, a representative of HH KC Mark Twain LP, said the development will retain the pool and the fifth-floor ballroom.
“We’ve been looking at Kansas City for some time, like the market, we like the business climate and thought Kansas City was a place we would like to be long term,” Banta said. “We have invested in that (the Mark Twain Tower) and are actively seeking other investments.”
Banta described HH KC Mark Twain LP as an investor group “committed to historic preservation.”
In incorporation filings with the Missouri secretary of state’s office, the business entity lists Andrew Greenbaum as the general partner. Greenbaum is a principal with Hudson Holdings, a real estate firm in Delray Beach, Fla., that bills itself as putting an emphasis on downtown historic adaptive reuse programs. It lists the Mark Twain building on its website.
The developers are working with NSPJ Architects, Barsto Construction and Bob Mayer of MR Capital Advisors — all local firms — to assist with the redevelopment plan.
Downtown boosters supported the project proposal.
“We’re very supportive of the concept,” said Sean O’Byrne, vice president at the Downtown Council. “That building, in our opinion, has passed its economic life as far as an office is concerned. The conversion they’re planning will give that building another 100 years of economic life.”
Banta said state and federal historic tax credits, for which the building is approved, complement a traditional financing plan for the building. The building was approved for a tax abatement under the Chapter 353 Advisory Board, but the development team may look for a new approval by the same agency or by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.
Current office tenant leases are expiring at the Mark Twain Tower, and the development group hopes to start on construction in April with an estimated 2018 opening.
The units would each have one or two bedrooms. Banta said they would be competitively priced.
This development proposal is the latest in a long line of ideas for the Mark Twain Tower. One idea in recent years was converting part of the building itself into a parking garage, an idea that never came to pass but reflected the difficulty the building has in supplying enough available parking.
Banta said the parking situation is resolved with the Mark Twain Tower but declined to divulge specifics. Several parking garages and surface lots are within proximity to the building.
“We’re excited to be in Kansas City,” Banta said. “We look forward to a long relationship in Kansas City.”