Pickwick Plaza shines in $65 million renovation in downtown Kansas City

An inside look at the new East 9 at Pickwick Plaza

Gold Crown Properties held a party on Friday, July 21, 2017, celebrating the renovation of East 9 at Pickwick Plaza, a new block-long residential project.
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Gold Crown Properties held a party on Friday, July 21, 2017, celebrating the renovation of East 9 at Pickwick Plaza, a new block-long residential project.

Tom and Bryan Smith celebrated on Friday with a red-carpet reception at what two years ago was a hulking decaying empty building.

Behind them were 10 years of planning and financial challenges to renovate a derelict block of downtown Kansas City.

The father-and-son team, with Gold Crown Properties Inc., held a grand opening party for East 9 at Pickwick Plaza, a residential and commercial project that fills the entire 900 block of McGee Street.

Their $65 million project has restored a 1930s-era former hotel, office building and bus station with elements harkening back to some of their art deco glory.

“This is the most amazing adaptive re-use I have ever seen,” said Jeffrey Weingart, vice president of UC Fund of Boston, an investor in the project. “We’ve done about $10 billion worth of real estate investment around the country, and this is, without question, magnificent. It’s hard to imagine what was here before.”

The ambitious rehabilitation includes 260 apartment units, ranging from studios at $750 a month to two-bedrooms at $2,000. Tenants have access to a health club, an indoor pool, attached parking garage, a private event space, an opulent lobby and certain delivery services.

The massive project includes two apartment towers that sandwich a former bus terminal. The seven-story north tower opened to tenants last year; the 11-story south tower opened this spring. The complex now is 70 percent leased, according to Bryan Smith.

Historic Kansas City gave a tour of Pickwick Plaza at Ninth and McGee streets to 25 Urban Explorers. The massive structure is undergoing a $65 million restoration and conversion.

A sloping ramp between the towers that once handled bus traffic has been turned into the swimming pool. Implementing the pool cost about as much as the original building’s 1930 construction price of about $3.5 million. Artwork in the restored lobby shows what once was before the property declined.

“It’s been a long, hard journey, and we’re glad to see that it’s come to an end,” said Tom Smith.

The developers continue to work to fill the project’s commercial spaces, which already include a UPS Store, a City Gym facility and a targeted restaurant and bar space.

Gold Crown bought part of the property in 2010, at which time it was partly vacant and partly used for subsidized housing known as Royal Towers. The company acquired the rest of the block in 2015.

In addition to financing from UC Funds, the project was backed by FAST Preferred Equity of Denver. It also received $25 million worth of federal and state historic tax credits.

“This shows the importance of historic tax credits,” said Kansas City Councilman Scott Taylor. “For Kansas City, historic tax credits have been key to our renaissance, bringing in private dollars to make projects happen in what otherwise would be empty buildings.”

The Pickwick project also received a 10-year, 100 percent property tax abatement through the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

The owners will continue to pay about $100,000 in pre-existing property taxes, and the agreement provides for a 2 percent annual increase in the project’s payments in lieu of taxes.

Other project participants included Metropolitan Capital Advisors of Dallas, MR Capital Advisors of Kansas City, Rosin Preservation, HarenLaughlin Construction, Helix Architecture + Design, Wallace Engineering, Krudwig Structural Engineers and Joe Munson Studios.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford