A 62-year-old man who owns a medical ultrasound business backed his baby-blue 1970 American Motors AMX out of his garage, pulled through the fancy wrought-iron gate and dropped the hammer.
Not recklessly. Expressively.
Dual exhausts from the 390-cubic-inch V8 played sweet morning music to the man’s buddies standing back in Carriage Houses, a condominium complex in western Johnson County.
It’s really quite a little community. With a twist.
“Nobody lives here,” said Eric Offill, president of the development company.
“It’s a detached garage along with a whole bunch of other guys with detached garages,” added Bill Brown, broker for the project.
Carriage Houses of Johnson County, in a rural area of De Soto, is the biggest and one of the first car-condo developments in the Kansas City area. The niche development joins an emerging business model around the country catering to car-loving, mostly-male baby boomers with spare dough and wives who want all the gear-head clutter gone from the garage at home.
Buyers get a really cool garage that’s attached to another really cool garage, and chances are the guy in the other one loves cars and football, likes to talk about both and always has beer.
And a grill. And a fridge. Maybe a big TV.
The whole place, founded by four former Air Force combat pilots, is nothing short of a man-cave subdivision.
So far, 75 Carriage House units have been completed, sold and occupied, with more coming soon.
Here’s how it works: You buy a garage — prices start in the low 30s for a one-car unit and go up depending on size. (One man’s garage is 1,500 square feet.) Park your muscle cars, English roadsters, RVs, antique cars, whatever. Wrench them, sit in a chair and look at them, rub them with a soft cloth and visit with neighbors doing the same.
Some guys show up several times a month, some several times a week.
Greg Petropoulos, 53, of Shawnee comes as often as he can swing it.
“For me, it’s an escape,” the father of two teenagers said. “I could probably do this in the garage at the house. But that’s home — I need a no-stress zone.”
Another car-condo complex is getting started in Stilwell. StoneGate Motorplaza appears more high-end. Plans there call for a 1.75-mile asphalt track for garage owners who want to see if that Audi S8 will really do what it’s supposed to do.
“The track is what will make our place unique to others around Kansas City,” said StoneGate developer Joe Effertz.
The complex sits on 160 acres of what used to be family farm land. Effertz likened the track to a golf course and the garage condos to houses on the golf course.
If things go as planned, he said, the track could be ready by Labor Day.
According to StoneGate’s website, garage prices start at $134,000.
Sound like a lot? Others around the country cost much more. A garage unit at AutoMotorPlex outside Minneapolis can go for $300,000.
The whole business concept seemed strange at first to Barbara Hageman. That was her husband, Dan, in the AMX at the top of this story. But buying a garage at Carriage Houses eventually made sense to her — Dan’s a car guy and she wasn’t about to give up her spot in the garage at their home in Lenexa to make room for his vintage muscle car.
She understands the selling point.
“You know, baby boomers like their toys,” Barbara said. “And when the kids are gone, they have a little extra money.”
But she sure never heard of a “car condominium” when she was young.
“We had a barn,” she said.
Seeing an opportunity
The Kansas City area getting that first car condo place didn’t come without a price.
We lost out on some kind of roller rink meets fun house, a novel venue in which skaters encounter obstacles as they negotiate a track.
“But then we got to thinking about liability with skaters crashing, so we decided to come up with something else,” said a smiling Joe Nuti, one of the four combat pilots who partnered on Carriage Houses.
Nuti and the others go back to flying A-10s during Desert Storm and then more recent action in the Middle East. Now, all four fly for Southwest Airlines.
Nuti and Offill had decided long ago that they would go into business together when they left the service, so they looked for possibilities — thus the wild skating idea. Then one of them saw an article about a car condo project in another state. The Kansas City area didn’t have one of those.
They brought in the two others pilots to help defray the investment.
They found the land and started building. They knew their clientele — mostly baby boomers who grew up in the car-crazed days of the 1960s and ’70s and are now in a shared stage of life: nearing retirement, kids grown and gone, extra cash and thinking about that 1969 Chevelle SS they never had.
Carriage Houses started selling garages in 2011. Another building with 16 units is nearing completion, with six units already sold.
Dan Hageman knew he wanted in. When he told his wife about the place, she asked if everyone else would be a car crazy like he was.
“Well, I sincerely hope so,” he told her.
Norm Waters, 59, needed space for his toys, so he and his partner in a roofing company went in on a 24-by-60-foot garage. It holds a 1970 Chevelle SS with a 454-cubic-inch engine, a 1973 Camaro LT Z28 RS, a 1956 Ford pickup, an Austin Healey Sprite and two Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
“First off, I wouldn’t have the Camaro,” Waters said. “I got a three-car garage at home and it’s full.”
He wouldn’t want to part with either muscle car.
“The Camaro and Chevelle will both light up the tires, and you can ask the sheriff.”
The social part
George the dog lay outside Alan McClure’s garage a recent sunny day.
“He wouldn’t bite a biscuit unless there was gravy on it,” McClure said.
These two show up most every day at Carriage Houses. Unlike his car-guy neighbors, McClure’s a woodworker, his garage filled with woodworking machines and tools. He makes a lot of bowls and duck calls.
“I guess that makes me different out here,” said McClure, who worked as a marketing consultant for 30 years.
Certainly different from Darrin Watson, who has four cars and a Ducati motorcycle in his garage.
But Watson is different, too. While most garages at Carriage Houses are neat and tidy, more like car living rooms, Watson’s is cluttered with parts and tools.
“Mine’s a working garage,” said Watson, 49, a financial planner who lives in Stilwell. “I got the place because my wife was giving me a hard time about making a mess at home.”
His wife, Stacey, was in favor of the garage purchase.
“Now he can leave things scattered about and not worry about his wife coming along telling him to clean things up,” she said.
Besides, the Ducati is hers. As is the white 1975 Pontiac Trans Am her husband gave her on her 40th birthday — she was born in 1975.
But everything else is Alfa Romeo. Thus the sign on the front: “Alfaholics.” A recent day, Darrin worked on a 1974 Milano. He sometimes shows up at 4 a.m. because other times he’s interrupted by neighbors.
But that’s OK.
“I didn’t anticipate the social part when I got here,” he said. “But that’s really the best part of this place.”
There’s a lot of nice vehicles parked in the garages at Carriage Houses. Access is through a security gate. Also, surveillance cameras cover the entire complex, even the club house, which has a fireplace, games and a bar.
Great place to have a party.
One man wondered about the necessity of a camera in the party area.
“Does there have to be?” he asked.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182
Carriage Houses of Johnson County, 29230 W. 83rd St., 913-244-4954
StoneGate Motorplaza, 7800 W. 207th, 913-489-7233