One of the great laments in the history of downtown Kansas City development was neglecting the riverfront for years — sticking a dump and a tow lot along the shores of the Missouri River stood in sharp contrast to how other major cities embraced and valued the land along their rivers.
“Its demise coincided with the demise of downtown, generally,” said Gib Kerr, a prominent downtown Kansas City real estate broker. Kerr works with Cushman & Wakefield, the firm that has the riverfront brokerage assignment.
Progress has been slow along the riverfront, but the change is unmistakable. Gone are the ruins strewn along it, including rubble from when the Kemper Arena roof collapsed in 1979. Instead, there’s an active construction site that will eventually become 400 new apartments facing Berkley Riverfront Park.
The Port Authority of Kansas City, or PortKC, expects that more development will follow soon. On Wednesday, PortKC unveiled a series of renderings showing what it hopes will someday reflect the riverfront’s makeover, along with a new branding campaign for the area.
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Michael Collins, executive director of PortKC, said the riverfront’s capacity for development could cover 5 million to 6 million square feet. That would include 1,500 apartments, followed by retail development and, hopefully, an office project if the riverfront can attract enough attention from companies looking to move downtown.
Collins said he’s heard from out-of-town companies — he won’t say which ones — that are evaluating the prospect of locating along the Missouri River.
“Our vision is to create a world-class riverfront that can compete with anyone,” Collins said.
PortKC, the master developer of the riverfront, is on a marketing campaign for the area. It’s looking to catch up to other cities that have developed their riverfront properties, such as St. Louis and Pittsburgh, into community attractions.
“If you look at other riverfront development across the country, they worked without boundaries,” Collins said.
Collins said in the near term, PortKC is pursuing fitness amenities to add to existing ones at Berkley Riverfront Park, which include a running trail and sand volleyball courts. When more people start living along the riverfront with the addition of new apartments, Collins expects retail development to follow.
A proposed extension of the downtown streetcar line into Berkley Riverfront Park, Collins said, could accelerate the pace of change. That idea is under review.