Downtown KC feels more like a neighborhood these days

04/14/2014 4:50 PM

04/15/2014 6:33 PM

The last few weeks have brought good news for downtown Kansas City, with proposals for more than 1,000 new apartments announced. But something as quaint as an old-fashioned Easter egg hunt has really captured the spirit of what’s happening these days.

Ten years ago, when the Downtown Neighborhood Association was founded, the idea that on a brilliant Saturday morning hundreds of kids and their families would flock to the north lawn of Liberty Memorial to search for Easter eggs with the skyline of downtown Kansas City as a backdrop would have been laughable.

Back then, what’s now the H&R Block headquarters and the Power & Light District, with its bustling Cosentino’s Downtown Market, still was a tawdry assortment of crumbling parking lots, haunted houses, broken booze bottles and dirty-book stores.

“It’s completely changed since when we first moved here in 2006,” said Lindsay Tatro, president of the neighborhood association and a resident of the River Market area. “Everything would shut down at 5 p.m.

“Now we see restaurants which had only been open for lunch stay open into the evening. Businesses recognize the residential population is staying downtown.”

The Easter egg hunt was sponsored by the neighborhood association and Resurrection Downtown, a church that recently expanded to serve the growing residential population, estimated at more than 10,350 people. And that number should rise rapidly over the next couple of years if all goes as planned.

Last week Cityscape Residential, an Indianapolis firm, announced plans for three downtown apartment developments totaling 661 units. Two weeks ago, NorthPoint Development, a Kansas City firm, revealed a $60 million plan to renovate the historic Kansas City Power & Light Co. building into a 270-unit apartment project.

Lucas Place, a 130-unit historic rehab apartment project, opened last month at 323 W. Eighth St. The Cordish Co. has begun building a 25-story, 315-unit tower at 13th and Walnut streets. Other apartment deals either under construction or in advanced planning include the historic Folgers coffee plant, River Market West and 1914 Main.

And it’s not just more residences. Other aspects of a real neighborhood are blossoming this spring downtown. Crossroads Academy, a 2-year-old charter school at 1015 Central St., is planning to double its size and expand to 270 students this fall. Plans continue to advance for a $39 million YMCA at 10th Street and Grand Boulevard.

Tatro also said the dozen B-cycle bike rental stations downtown coupled with the new downtown streetcar now starting construction between Crown Center and the River Market are adding ways to get around besides using a car.

There’s now the infrastructure for a lasting downtown residential community co-existing with entertainment, culture, government and business.

Tatro said her organization was evolving as well. It was the recent battle over a plan by a Jimmy John’s restaurant to have a drive-through at its new outlet in the works at Ninth Street and Broadway that triggered the latest push by the Downtown Neighborhood Association — which members refer to as DNA.

The drive-through was opposed by many residents for being inappropriate in an urban setting, but it had already gone too far down the review path at City Hall to be stopped. To get a quicker start next time, the neighborhood organization established a development committee to keep track of proposals that could affect residents.

“As more people live downtown, the DNA is making a point that people live here, and we want to be at the table for the discussion about what’s going on,” she said. “Jimmy John’s was the catalyst that brought this to the forefront.”

James Rice, an engineer who lives in the View condominium tower at 600 Admiral Blvd., is the chairman of the new committee. He described others on the committee as a diverse group of architects, planners, lawyers and engineers.

“A lot of us see downtown as the city’s heart and soul,” he said. “We want people to be able to say they’re proud of downtown and proud they live there, and make sure we’re good hosts to others in the metro.”

Tatro said downtown residents now form an important constituency and want to be sure their voices are heard as the area continues to revive after being neglected for so long.

“The biggest priority will be making sure new development and anything built in the neighborhood consider residents’ opinions,” she said.

Downtown Kansas City has come a long way in 10 years, and replacing haunted houses with neighborhood groups, schools and Easter bunnies is a huge hop forward.

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