Phil Kirk, retired chairman of DST Realty and a giant in downtown Kansas City’s real estate renaissance, died Thursday at age 76.
Accolades poured in from civic leaders who credited Kirk as a behind-the-scenes master development strategist who helped assemble land and raised money for many prominent downtown Kansas City projects.
“Phil was one who eschewed the limelight, but those of us who knew him know full well what an asset he has been to Kansas City,” said Jim Heeter, president of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
In November 2013, Kirk received the chamber’s highest civic honor, the Kansas Citian of the Year Award.
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He was instrumental in the renovation of the historic First National Bank Building into the Central Library at 14 W. 10th St. and helped identify the property at 10th and Central streets for downtown’s Crossroads Academy charter school.
Kirk helped assemble the land for the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and for the future UMKC music conservatory. He also was a big booster for a new downtown YMCA.
“He had a great mind for real estate and a passion for rebuilding the west side of the downtown area,” Kirk’s brother, Frank, said Thursday.
Frank Kirk said his brother became involved with DST after he began working closely with Kansas City Southern chairman Bill Deramus III. Kansas City Southern Industries was the parent company of DST, and Kirk was named president of DST Realty in the mid-1980s.
Rebuildng the west side of downtown was a dream of Deramus’, and Phil Kirk helped bring that vision to life, Frank Kirk said.
Phil Kirk helped create a “nonprofit campus” using historic preservation of previously vacant buildings on Quality Hill and also helped create the 11th Street Corridor Tax Increment Financing District.
“Over the last 30-plus years, Phil proved to be the architect of downtown’s renaissance and a guiding light to me and to the Downtown Council,” said Downtown Council president Bill Dietrich.
Kirk’s first downtown purchase was a building at 1015 Central St. where Walt Disney began his illustration career in the 1920s. The building eventually housed 360 Architecture and then in 2012 became the home for a successful downtown charter school, Crossroads Academy.
“Crossroads Academy has lost a hero, and Kansas City has lost one of its greatest champions,” Dean Johnson, the school’s executive director, said Thursday. “Phil scaled mountains for our school. His compassion and dedication to children were inspiring and his impact on our community profound.”
Greg Graves, chairman and CEO of Burns & McDonnell, praised Kirk for his visionary leadership.
“Phil Kirk is one of the best examples I have ever known of putting the community first,” Graves said. “We’ll need more like him to move Kansas City forward.”
In addition to his real estate career, Kirk was active in volunteer circles. He was a benefactor for the DeLaSalle Education Center, urban core efforts of the Boy Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, the Hope Lodge for the American Cancer Society and other civic and charitable causes.
Kirk was born Dec. 30, 1937, in Kansas City and spent nearly all his life here. He graduated from Southwest High School and the University of Kansas before getting a law degree from Northwestern Law School in 1963.
He is survived by his wife, Judy; son, David; daughter, Melinda, and their spouses; and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.