In the Crossroads district south of the downtown Kansas City loop, it’s been a tale of east and west.
The larger west side has been red hot for more than a decade, attracting scores of restaurants, art galleries and shops, and launching the popular First Friday event.
On the east side — from roughly Grand Boulevard east to Campbell Street and from Truman Road south to 20th Street — development crept along slowly.
But now, the east side is coming into its own, exploding with new businesses, many of them owned by young entrepreneurs.
Now open or coming soon are coffee shops, a cafe and bakery, a contemporary southeast Asian restaurant, an organic grocery, a hair salon, a small-venue wedding chapel, restaurants and churches.
The business owners are attracted to the one- and two-story buildings that tend to be cheaper than other parts of the city, including buildings in the west Crossroads. They’re close to downtown and the interstate — a walkable, bikeable area where their neighbors include other entrepreneurs.
“The east Crossroads is still a little bit rough around the edges, a little less corporate, a little more artistic, with amazing graffiti,” said Bo Nelson, a partner in Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, which opened in mid-2014 at 419 E. 18th St. “Spaces are unassuming outside, but when you walk in it is jaw-dropping.”
Opportunities to the east
The west Crossroads has nearly filled up with businesses and offices, but Suzie Aron, an area Realtor and real estate investor, said that on the east side plenty of buildings are still available, many of them dark for 10 to 20 years.
“The scale of the buildings is so good for new entrepreneurs who can afford to do the work themselves or afford having it rehabbed,” Aron said. “They aren’t taking on that much expense.”
In late 2013, Butch Rigby bought a vacant property at 1701 McGee St., the former circulation building for The Kansas City Star, for the new Screenland Crossroads. It now houses the single-screen theater, bar, restaurant and arcade. It’s also home to a hair salon, an event space, an architectural firm, an intimate wedding chapel with “farmhouse chic” decor, a local filmmakers organization and an event services company. A church is scheduled to open in March, bringing the complex to full occupancy.
About a block east of Rigby’s project, artists Julia Cole and Leigh Rosser bought and renovated two former auto shop buildings at 18th and Oak streets. The complex will be known as Quercus, and it will be sustainable with solar panels, a rain collection system, edible landscaping and a “green” courtyard.
These were “functional and uninteresting buildings that were infill,” Cole said. “So it’s interesting to take these and make a feature of them.”
In the north building, Craig Howard will open Howard’s, a cafe, grocery and catering company, at 1708 Oak St. Howard’s will offer limited breakfast items, sandwiches and salads, local produce and meats, and prepared items such as frozen pizzas made at Howard’s.
“Oak Street was meant to be a busy street. Now this new district is just bubbling up,” Howard said.
Messenger Coffee Co. scoured the metro area for 18 months, looking for an affordable building big enough for several operations under one roof. It recently bought a 12,000-square-foot, two-story building at 1624 Grand Blvd.
A year from now it will open with a coffee shop, cafe and an Ibis Bakery on the first floor. The second floor will have a coffee bar overlooking Messenger’s roasting facility, and the rooftop garden will offer outdoor seating and perhaps a wood-fired pizza oven for “pizza nights” under the stars.
“There is so much energy and opportunity in that area, and we want to be part of that,” said Chris Matsch, co-owner of Ibis Bakery in Lenexa.
Just across Grand to the north, Christopher Long and John Lewis bought the building at 1513 Grand Blvd. After two years of renovations, Se-Asia Bistro is scheduled to open on the first level in mid-March. The upper floor will be an event space, and the owners plan to add a rooftop deck.
Ryan Brazeal also may get his wish for a Crossroads restaurant. When he couldn’t find a feasible space in 2013, he leased a building on the city’s West Side for Novel. Now that the restaurant has earned national accolades, Brazeal is negotiating to buy a building in the east Crossroads and move Novel.
Tapping into the neighborhood
Boulevard Brewing Co. has long dominated the local craft market, but Chad Troutwine, co-founder of the new Torn Label Brewing Co., said a city of Kansas City’s size should have a handful of craft breweries to call its own.
That includes three new craft breweries in the east Crossroads.
Two other new breweries are going into 18th Street spots across from Grinders restaurant, a pioneer in the district when it opened in 2004.
Border Brewing Co., a brewery and taproom, opened Saturday on 18th Street. It will have a high rotation of different styles of beers so customers can try different brews and be more involved with the process.
“I want to bridge the gap between beer drinkers and beer lovers,” said owner and head brewer Eric Martens.
In a building next door, Double Shift Brewing Co. plans to start construction this week for a May opening.
“The beer community is not competitive. And I think we will play off of each other,” said Aaron Ogilvie, founder of Double Shift, who also is a Leawood firefighter. “This is an artist community, and craft beer is sort of an art form.”
Artist Jeff “Stretch” Rumaner helped launch the east Crossroads’ rebirth with the opening of Grinders more than a decade ago.
When tenants come into the area — such as the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, which moved its administrative offices and production center to 1725 Holmes Road in 2012 — it only makes the area more walkable.
“And it’s all been done organically with little help from the city,” Rumaner said.
East Crossroads entrepreneurs are looking at ways to draw more attention to the area.
Michael Schmidt and Andrew Smith, who are earning landscape architecture degrees from Iowa State University, put together a proposal, called 18th Street Reimagined, as a senior project. It calls for a stronger identity of 18th Street from Broadway to the 18th and Vine jazz district, with distinctive signs, sidewalk and street pavers, and landscaping.
“From the area celebrating jazz to the area celebrating art it’s only a 1.5-mile stretch,” Schmidt said. “It is walkable now, but with more things to do it will be very walkable.”
Bike trails that will flow down Grand and turn east on 18th Street also will raise the district’s profile. The Crossroads Community Association is working on more convenient parking, including back-in parking on Oak Street between 15th and 18th.
“We are such an eclectic area — industrial, residential, retail and office — and all of them have different parking needs, so we are trying to find a balance,” Aron said. “It’s finding the collaborative way we can all work together to develop parking opportunities for our community.”
Several east Crossroads entrepreneurs said they don’t want the area to become so popular that artists and young entrepreneurs are priced out.
“We want more activity on the street and all those good things but not to go down the road of gentrification,” Cole said. “As we redevelop our city it needs to work for different kinds of people.”
To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC.
East Crossroads operations open or coming soon
▪ Border Brewing Co., local craft brewery, 406 E. 18th St., opened Saturday.
▪ Double Shift Brewing Co., local craft brewery, 412 E. 18th St., opening in early May.
▪ Generator Studio, architecture firm, 1701 McGee St., Suite 600, opened September 2014 (relocated from Brookside where it opened in 2009).
▪ Howard’s, grocery, cafe and catering, 1708 Oak St., opening this spring.
▪ Messenger Coffee Co. featuring Ibis Bakery, 1624 Grand Blvd., opening mid-2016.
▪ The Monarch Room, event space, 1701 McGee St., Suite 100, opened August 2014.
▪ Paul Smith Salon & Spa, 1701 McGee St., Suite 300, opened in October.
▪ PlatinumKC, offering event services including DJs, sound, lighting and design, 1701 McGee St., Suite 400.
▪ Screenland Crossroads, 1701 McGee St., Suite 200, one-screen movie theater, opened Feb. 20.
▪ Se-Asia Bistro, contemporary restaurant offering authentic cuisine from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, 1513 Grand Blvd., opening mid-March 2015.
▪ Tapcade at Screenland Crossroads, bar, arcade and restaurant, 1701 McGee St., opened Feb. 20.
▪ Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters, coffee shop, bar, retail shop and event space, 419 E. 18th St., opened July 2014.
▪ Torn Label Brewing Co., local craft brewery, 1708 Campbell St., December 2014.
▪ The Vow Exchange, 1701 McGee St., Suite 800, opened October 2014, relocated from Hospital Hill where it opened 2013.