Kansas City is poised to take the first step toward transforming a grocery store and strip mall that have languished for years on one of the urban core’s most prominent corners.
While it’s taken much longer than city leaders had hoped, plans for the Linwood Shopping Center redevelopment are finally moving forward.
Mayor Sly James and other dignitaries announced with great fanfare in May that the struggling center at Linwood Boulevard and Prospect Avenue would be revived with a new Sun Fresh food market and other retail tenants by mid-2016.
That schedule is out the window. It’s taken until now to get the property acquisition details worked out, and the new grocery opening is projected for 2017.
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But there is progress, and on Thursday, the City Council introduced an ordinance to purchase the property for $950,000, setting the stage for redevelopment.
The council is slated to vote on that ordinance after the Thanksgiving holiday. The purchase would be in the name of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority, a public agency that does urban renewal on behalf of the city.
“It is a big step forward,” said 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed, who represents the district where the center is located. “Sometimes, as we’ve seen in the past, many of these projects take a long time to get off the ground.”
James agreed that since the May announcement, he’s wondered what was taking so long, and he’s been impatient to see more progress because it’s a high-priority project.
“It is a big symbol of malaise on the East Side, sitting right there at a key intersection of Linwood and Prospect,” James said. “With a grocery store that doesn’t function, shops that aren’t really doing that much, it is a big sore thumb that can be healed, and we want to heal it.”
While it may appear nothing has happened since May, serious real estate negotiations have been going on behind the scenes, said Korb Maxwell, attorney for the R.H. Johnson Co., which will be the developer of the refurbished shopping center.
“The whole development team has been working our butts off on this deal,” Maxwell said, adding that they’re hoping to start construction by May 2016. Assuming construction would take 10 months to a year, the 38,000-square-foot grocery could potentially open in the first half of 2017.
The Sun Fresh would be operated by John Lipari, who could not be reached for comment. But Maxwell said he’s an experienced urban grocer, best known for operating the popular Lipari Brothers Thriftway in Kansas City, Kan., which closed in 2014.
“The space will have a bright new future. We think a newly developed, full-service grocery store at Linwood and Prospect can be extremely successful if you have a high quality operator like John Lipari,” Maxwell said. “They’re engaged and want to move this forward faster than anybody.”
Reed noted that the Aldi grocery at 39th Street and Prospect Avenue took 10 years of planning, and he personally worked for more than two years to bring it to fruition in 2014. He doesn’t think this will take anywhere near as long, but said there are complex financing and development details to pull together.
The ordinance authorizes purchase of the existing strip mall and parking lot on the west side of Prospect, between 31st Street and Linwood, from a company established by Don Maxwell, a long-time developer in the area.
Plans call for spending an additional $11 million to demolish the existing grocery store, which has been vacant since 2007, and building a new one for Sun Fresh.
The retail wings at the north and south ends of the property, bracketing the grocery store, will not be demolished but will be renovated. Some existing retail tenants, including a Gen X men’s clothing store, will remain, while new tenants will also be brought in.
“Everything is going to get a facelift. Everything is going to look fresh and new,” said Mario Vasquez, the project manager with the Kansas City Public Works Department.
A Chinese restaurant and a Popeyes have their own pad sites and are not affected by the deal. The Linwood Square strip mall on the east side of Prospect is not part of the deal, although it too may soon undergo an upgrade.
The city will borrow the money for the Linwood Shopping Center by selling bonds, then expects to repay the loans with projected taxes from the development, along with a special 1-cent sales tax collected at the stores, plus tax credits. But all those financing details are still being worked out.
The city itself will not redevelop the shopping center but will evaluate and assure that the land and parking lot are environmentally clean. It will also help get the tax-increment financing and tax credit plans set up, paving the way for R.H. Johnson to complete the development, Vasquez said.
Vasquez hopes all this can be accomplished to allow construction to begin in April or May of 2016, although he concedes that may be optimistic.
Don Maxwell will still have a role working with the tenants. He said the previous grocery failed because of mismanagement but he has high hopes for a new grocery operation.
“There’s no question about the demand,” he said. “One thing that everybody’s got to do is buy groceries. There’s no competition in this area at all.”
Don Maxwell said this new shopping center can build on other progress along Prospect Avenue, including the just finished East Patrol police campus at 27th and Prospect and a $5.7 million family life center under construction by Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, also at 27th and Prospect.
Businesses along Prospect are organizing into a business association, Maxwell said, with plans to beautify the corridor with landscaping from 22nd Street to 35th Street.
“We want to create an oasis,” he said.
The new grocery is coming to an area that’s been considered a “food desert” because of the lack of fresh food outlets. For several years, Truman Medical Center had planned another new grocery at 27th Street and Troost Avenue, but Truman pulled the plug on that plan earlier this year.
Still, other grocery stores may be in the offing. Developer Vewiser Dixon has tentatively proposed a grocery at 22nd and Vine streets, in the 18th and Vine Jazz District.
Dixon was not available Friday to discuss his plans. But in an email, he said preliminary plans call for a 20,000-square-foot store with a limited assortment format and full-service fresh foods, including ethnic recipes and celebrity chef guest appearances.