Major renovation begins in downtown KC’s former Pickwick hotel

The Pickwick Plaza complex, a former hotel and bus station in the 900 block of McGee Street will become affordable apartments in downtown Kansas City.
The Pickwick Plaza complex, a former hotel and bus station in the 900 block of McGee Street will become affordable apartments in downtown Kansas City. Photo by Diane Stafford

To get a sense of what the Pickwick Plaza Hotel once was, you might take a look at “In Cold Blood,” the movie where Robert Blake played the infamous murderer Perry Smith. One of the earliest scenes was shot in the lobby.

Developers Thomas C. Smith and Bryan Smith want you to see that once nice, then ruined, lobby again — returned to its historic best as part of a $65 million renovation of the hotel and adjacent former bus terminal.

The major undertaking on McGee Street between Ninth and 10th streets has been a long time coming, but the final financing fell into place last week for their Overland Park-based Gold Crown Properties. Restoration has begun to turn the 85-year-old property into apartments and commercial space.

A $65 million transformation begins on a former hotel and bus station in downtown Kansas City.

It’s the last major renewal project overlooking Ilus Davis Park at Kansas City’s civic center. And the father-son team is confident that the Art Deco-era building will bloom in a new life as apartments with high-quality finishes, parking and amenities particularly designed to meet the demands of people looking for affordable rentals downtown.

“It’s been an enormous challenge to pull it all together, but we’re confident the market is there,” Tom Smith said while leading a tour through the dark and damaged interior that most recently had been low-rent apartments.

Within a year, Smith said, he hopes to have the seven-story north part of the block-long site ready for renters in 45 units, priced at affordable $900 to $1,000-a-month rates. Within a year and a half, he hopes another 215 rental units will be ready for occupancy in the 10-story south end of the block.

“Finally, after seven-plus long and difficult years of predevelopment, we are at long last ready to start construction on the rehabilitiation of this beautiful and historic building,” Smith said Friday in announcing that financing was obtained from UC Funds of Boston and FAST Preferred Equity of Denver.

The property had been damaged by fire, vandalism and reconfiguring for government-assisted housing under the name Royal Towers. It’s a sizable redevelopment challenge, but HarenLaughlin Construction, Helix Architecture + Design and Krudwig Structural Engineers already are at work on the project which has ballooned in cost over the years.

The project includes a nine-level, 300-space parking garage with entry off Ninth Street.

“Up on the top floor of the garage, we ran into a $5 million surprise,” Smith said. “The major structural repairs stretched our already stretched budget.”

The project is being aided by $25 million worth of federal and state historic tax credits. Part of the historic appeal is the complex’s beginning as a combination hotel with a bus station sandwiched in between the two room towers. A large ramp on which buses drove up to the second floor of the station, will become the floor of an indoor swimming pool next to a fitness center.

Another bit of history is the penthouse, or 11th floor, atop the H-shaped hotel. It once was the studio for KMBC and WHB radio stations, where legendary Kansas City broadcaster Walt Bodine worked for years.

The property also received a 10-year, 100 percent property tax abatement through the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. Smith said the company will continue to pay about $100,000 a year in existing property taxes, and the agreement calls for a 2 percent annual increase in the project’s PILOTS, or payments in lieu of taxes.

The Smiths bought the south Pickwick tower in April 2010 and were finally able to close on the north end of the complex a few months ago. They’re hoping that the residential renewal will quickly attract commercial tenants to available commercial space on the street level and possibly on the mezzanine and penthouse levels.

Others assisting with the project are Metropolitan Capital Advisors of New York, MR Capital Advisors of Kansas City, and Rosin Preservation of Kansas City.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford