When developers set out to build Plexpod, a coworking space in the old Westport Middle School, their vision always included the nearby high school and a mixed-use transformation for Midtown.
Now, more than a year and a half after Plexpod’s opening, the firms are back for a mixed-use project they hope will revitalize Westport High School, add residential and commercial space to the area and attract the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s proposed conservatory campus.
“You’re taking what is a blighted building because it’s not being utilized and it’s deteriorating and you’re putting it back in so that it becomes part of the social fabric again and adds to the vitality,” said Chip Walsh, a principal for Sustainable Development Partners.
The redevelopment proposal is still in its early stages, but it got a boost Wednesday with a zoning approval from the City Council Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee. The full City Council will still have to approve the zoning.
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Developers are not asking for a property tax abatement or other city incentives, Walsh said, but they are pursuing state and federal historic tax credits and federal new markets tax credits.
Walsh’s firm, in partnership with Platform Ventures, plans to first rehabilitate the 111-year-old old high school at 39th and McGee streets, which closed in 2010, to house the conservatory. If UMKC rejects their proposal, Walsh said, they’ll convert the high school into a multi-tenant office building.
Next, they plan to add a new apartment building with up to 220 units and a parking garage between McGee and Locust streets. After that, a one-story commercial building and garage is planned for 39th and Warwick Boulevard. On the south end of the property, they’ve proposed an open space and a fourth building that could serve UMKC or add more residential space.
“What we’re trying to do is create a transition as we go further south into the neighborhood to be respectful of the neighborhood,” Walsh said.
All told, the proposed project would occupy 9.5 acres on the south side of 39th between Warwick and Locust.
UMKC declined to comment on the proposal.
“Since last September, when we announced that we were limiting our site search to a 2.5-mile radius of the Volker Campus, we have consistently declined to discuss any of the proposals we have received,” spokesman John Martellaro said.
That announcement signaled the end of UMKC’s aspirations for a downtown conservatory and refocused efforts closer to the university grounds.
Because the plan is still tentative pending a decision from UMKC, Walsh declined to give it a price tag.
Sustainable Development Partners bought the high school from Kansas City Public Schools in 2016. The group purchased the middle school in 2014 as part of a vision for the two sites they dubbed “Westport Commons.”
Shannon Jaax, director of planning and real estate services for KCPS, said the building sold for $2,025,000.
The zoning change got unanimous approval from the committee, and Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who represents the area, offered her support for the project.
“Obviously the old junior high has been fully realized and is a very good addition to our Midtown area,” Shields said. “I think we’re all hoping that the high school — and are very optimistic that the high school — will be the same type of project.”