Power & Light, per agreement with KC, moves ahead with affordable apartments downtown

Voter voices: Kansas City has a shortage of affordable housing

Developers have made certain Kansas City has plenty of luxury apartments. But the shortage of housing for low-and-middle- income residents is acute. How can Kansas City's next mayor address the issue?
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Developers have made certain Kansas City has plenty of luxury apartments. But the shortage of housing for low-and-middle- income residents is acute. How can Kansas City's next mayor address the issue?

Power & Light District developer Cordish Companies is moving forward with a plan to add affordable apartments downtown as part of an agreement with the city for subsidies on its next luxury tower.

The Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, which makes recommendations on tax incentives, on Thursday approved Cordish’s $24 million plan to add 117 studio and one-bedroom apartments at the Midland office building, adjacent to the historic theater on Main Street. Cordish has decided to dub the project Saxon at the Midland.

All of the apartments are expected to rent for less than $1,100 — some as low as $700 — and one-third of them will be set aside for residents who make less than 80 percent of the area median income, which is under $40,000 per year.

Power & Light District executive director Nick Benjamin told the PIEA board the project represented a “significant milestone” for Cordish, which has been the primary force behind development in the Power & Light District. Cordish also developed KC Live! and One Light and Two Light, its first two in a series of planned luxury apartment towers.

“It’s a beautiful building with a lot of great history but also a lot of challenges from a financial and construction perspective,” Benjamin said.

Cordish planned in 2012 to put 67 market-rate apartments in the Midland building. But under pressure last year from the City Council, the company agreed to build affordable apartments in exchange for $17.5 million in subsidies for a parking garage under Three Light, the next in its series of apartment towers.

The company struck an arrangement with the city in 2004 that said the city would build underground parking for each new apartment building.

Under the deal Cordish reached with the city last year, it will get a 25-year property tax abatement and make payments to the city to offset that tax break. The company was also granted a sales tax exemption on construction materials.

The company is also planning to use $4.6 million in historic tax credits, according to its PIEA application.

Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, who chairs the council’s Housing Committee, said he was heartened by the proposal, though he acknowledged the units were small.

“It’s movement in a good direction. I don’t know if we’re all the way there,” said Lucas, one of two candidates running for Kansas City mayor, though he said he’d prefer to see mixed-income developments where affordable units and market-rate or luxury apartments are housed together.

At the meeting, Bruce Eddy, executive director of the Jackson County Mental Health Board, said mental health officials and other taxing jurisdictions, including Kansas City Public Schools, had only received complete information about the project on Wednesday, which he called frustrating.

Cordish contends the payments it will be making in lieu of property taxes amount to very little abatement. According to the release from the company, the new plan represents a significantly larger tax bill than the original plan for market-rate apartments promised.

The building’s 117 units will be made up of 33 micro apartments measuring 321 square foot, 22 studios and 62 one-bedroom units.

Only one-third, or 39, of the apartments will be reserved for those making less than 80 percent of the area income. Benjamin said for each subsequent “Light” tower it would create a similar number of income-restricted affordable apartments, whether at the Midland or not.

Conversion of the Midland is expected to start early next year with apartments opening in the spring of 2021.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.