Sean O’Byrne, vice president of the Downtown Council of Kansas City, strained to be heard over the party din: “A few years ago, this very spot was the dumpster entrance to the former Jones Store,” he said.
And that, as several speakers noted Tuesday afternoon at the opening celebration for the 25-story One Light apartment tower at 50 E. 13th St., shows how far downtown Kansas City has come.
Speakers also heaped praise on the vision of the Cordish Cos., developer of the Power & Light District and the shiny, glass-walled tower that has changed the Kansas City skyline.
“Instead of us trying to be like other cities, they’re trying to be like us,” said Mayor Sly James, who admitted to a few “knock-down-drag-outs” with the development team before the public/private partnership reached fruition. James particularly applauded former mayor Kay Barnes for pushing downtown redevelopment forward despite political opposition.
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“People talk about how much Power & Light is costing,” James said. “I say, ‘But look at what was going on before. Look at this downtown now. It’s a victory for all of us.’ ”
In the modern, glitzy lobby, where performers with Quixotic added a celebratory air, a crowd celebrated the first new high-rise construction within the freeway loop since the H&R Block headquarters opened in 2006. It’s also the first new residential tower built in or near downtown Kansas City since San Francisco Tower opened in 1976 in Crown Center.
Blake Miller, a principal with Think Big Partners, moved into One Light two weeks ago and is among the first 90 residents.
“I signed up when I first heard the plans,” said Miller, who works four blocks away. “ I gave up my car in January and I walk everywhere, or use Uber, and will use the streetcar.
“I wanted the lifestyle, the amenities, the proximity. I’ve lived downtown since 2008, but I wanted to be a part of helping grow this community.”
For Miller, One Light “is the city living that we need to compete with other cities that are growing. We need it to attract and retain the people our businesses need to prosper.”
One Light, an $80 million, 315-unit building, broke ground in 2014 and held a topping-out ceremony in May. With floor-to-ceiling windows, tenants are able, depending on location, to look down on the Power & Light District or take in broad city vistas.
Power & Light official Nick Benjamin said the tower is 80 percent leased and all of its studio units have been rented. Remaining one- and two-bedroom apartments — about 55 units in all — rent for between $1,500 and $2,250 a month.
“We’ve been moving in people at the rate of about four units a day since Nov. 23,” said Marnie Sauls, who holds the unusual title of community manager for the apartment building. “We’re 30 percent occupied and 80 percent leased. The freight elevator has been very, very busy.”
Benjamin said the tower’s units on the top two floors were the first to be leased, renting for between $3,000 and $3,750 a month. Those 24 apartments range in size from 950 to 1,350 square feet.
The new construction is part of a residential boom, mostly in rehabilitated office buildings since 2012, in downtown Kansas City. O’Byrne said 21,000 residents now live downtown, and 7,500 more are expected to be added by the second quarter of 2016.
Cordish also is continuing to prepare for Two Light, a 24-story, 300-unit apartment tower planned for nearby at Walnut Street and Truman Road, now a parking lot. Construction on that $105 million project is expected to start next year, with occupancy in 2018.
The city committed about $8 million for the One Light apartments, plus $12 million to $14 million for the One Light garage. The tower is getting a 25-year, 50 percent property tax abatement. The public commitment for Two Light has been announced at about $17 million so far.