A mostly drab section of East 63rd Street in Kansas City — concentrated between Oak and Holmes — is showing signs of a renaissance that could perhaps one day lead to restoration of the Landing and other faded retail along Troost Avenue.
Developers and independent businesses are pumping new life into some down-at-the-heels blocks, updating the link between the popular Brookside shopping area and Troost. A new three-story apartment building, renovated office buildings, retail and food establishments are included in the makeover.
“We’re thrilled,” said Marti Lee, executive director of the Southtown Council, which has worked for years on 63rd Street redevelopment, beautification and infrastructure plans. “Things have all started happening within the past year. Everything seems to be coming together.”
One of the early projects involves a new apartment building scheduled to rise later this year from an asphalt lot at the corner of East 63rd and Holmes streets.
Co-developers John Hoffman and Lance Carlton, who’ve successfully planted housing in other midtown and inner Kansas City neighborhoods, expect to start construction this summer on 63Brookside, a $3 million market-rate apartment building.
Hoffman and Carlton are working through city construction permits, county property tax abatement approval, and state soil remediation processes to build living quarters on the corner that previously housed a Winchell’s donut shop and, before that, a gas station.
“It will be the first new apartment building in the Brookside area in more than 40 years,” Hoffman said about the three-story, 23-unit project. “This is a great neighborhood, and a lot of people are working to turn this stretch around.”
One of those is Butch Rigby, who’s also achieved commercial redevelopment successes elsewhere in central Kansas City and downtown. He and his partners have turned their attention to 63rd Street and spent about $3 million to acquire four tired or vacant office buildings, part of a $10 million investment between Oak and Holmes. Remodeling and marketing have begun.
“The key is being careful about tenant selection,” Rigby said. “No payday loan operations. I’m turning down tenant leases because they’re not the right fit. We’re sending the message that this is a strong but under-used area.”
One example of Rigby’s selectivity: A curious little A-frame building next door to the planned 63Brookside apartments — once a bank drive-through and later food operations — was “finally negotiated for a healthy juice and coffee shop, something to fit with the apartments and offices,” Rigby said.
The redevelopment efforts aren’t just about serving nearby residents but about attracting others to the area.
The Rigby group is undertaking redesign of a brick building just west of the A-frame that once housed a day care center. Rigby said he’s already booking special events for the re-christened Brookside Gardens Events Center.
The well-known Kansas City redevelopers are communicating with nearby homes associations, including the Oak Meyer and Astor Place organizations. They said they’re not encountering negative pushback. That’s partly because area residents already are seeing — and enjoying — commercial resurgence along that section of 63rd Street.
Various independent operators have turned a former gas station at 63rd and Oak streets into a bakery and eatery, repurposed a former Blockbuster store on 63rd for smaller retail uses, bought other former medical and office buildings along the street to renovate and re-use, and breathed new, customer-drawing life into a venerable L-shaped retail strip on the northeast corner of 63rd and Oak.
One of the earliest reclamations of a vacant building on 63rd Street — in a former Southwestern Bell facility — was undertaken about four years ago by Dave Dalton, who opened Hammerspace, a large “independent maker space.”
Now expanded to a 7,000-foot facility, it is a combination custom-fabrication business and place where, for a membership fee, anyone can use its equipment to build things out of metal, wood or plastics.
“We’re a draw from throughout the region because there’s a scarcity of places that do what we do,” Dalton said of the privately financed venture. “But we also selected this neighborhood because we were familiar with it and because the area is full of creative people who may live in smaller homes without space for their own workshops.”
The Dalton family has operated businesses in the neighborhood for more than 50 years. Dalton’s father, Jim Dalton, had Dalton Interiors at 62nd Terrace and Oak streets, just around the corner from the Hammerspace location.
The Dalton Interiors site now is re-opening as Plate, a new restaurant.
“We’ve always felt that Brookside could expand east and encompass buildings that haven’t been in heavy use for years,” Dave Dalton said.
Roland Sabates remembers the area’s heyday, back when he moved to Kansas City in 1968 as a high schooler and lived in the neighborhood. Office buildings were filled with doctors and dentists, and the Landing shopping center at 63rd and Troost was thriving with established retailers and restaurants.
“Then everyone bailed,” he said.
But five years ago, Sabates bought a building at 520 E. 63rd St. and rehabbed it inside and out for his Brookside Eye Care Center. Three years later he picked up a rundown liquor store next door. His son Trey Sabates rehabbed that building and now operates Brookside Wine & Spirits in the spot.
Roland Sabates would like to snap up other buildings along the 63rd Street stretch but now has competition from other investors.
“That’s good; we want people to build up the neighborhood,” he said.
Putting “Brookside” in the name of his two businesses may have been stretching it a bit, Sabates said, but others also are eager to extend the district east even while creating a distinct identity to be known as Brookside East.
“It is not to separate ourselves from Brookside, but we want to put up a banner that says, ‘Hey, we are here,’” said Christian Joseph, who opened Season + Square culinary shop with his wife, Andrea, at 6205 Oak St. in early 2014. The couple this fall are planning to open Plate, next door to the shop.
James Laster bought the 8,050-square foot former Blockbuster last summer and rehabbed it for a center that he calls Brookside East. Bona Terra Salon, an Aveda salon, opened in half the renovated building last October, and he wants to fill the rest with more locally owned tenants.
Another enterprise with long-time 62nd and Oak ties also chose to buy a building on 63rd. Tim and Joyce Ward, with Ward & Ward Customer Framing, “leaped at the opportunity” to buy a low-slung mid-century modern building at 521 E. 63rd when it went on the market in 2013.
“I’d watched for properties in the neighborhood for years,” said Tim Ward. “We wanted to stay in the neighborhood and close to the Nelson Gallery, which sends us a lot of referrals. Plus, it was a bump up to more efficient space.”
A different leap of faith for 63rd came from the nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services, which bought and moved into a two-story building at 616 E. 63rd St. Its 14 employees work on the second floor, and it leases first-floor space to other tenants.
The 63rd Street rebirth is expected to continue to the east. Block & Co. Inc. Realtors is talking to two large retailers for the Landing, as well as a new freestanding restaurant that would open next to Wendy’s.
“New users who will fill a void in the community,” said David Block, principal in Block & Co. “We love to see the redevelopment over there. Any new brick-and-mortar is good for the neighborhood, good for the property and good for the community as a whole.”