Development

A look inside the renovation of Kansas City’s historic KCP&L tower

John Cary tucked his dog under his arm, rode the elevator down 27 floors to the sidewalk at 14th Street and Baltimore Avenue, and pointed up to his apartment on the northeast corner of the historic Kansas City Power & Light Building.

“We moved fast to get a place with a terrace,” Cary said. “We knew they’d go in a hurry. There’s so much going on downtown. We wanted to walk out the door and have a million things to do.”

Cary, who is retired from the military but still teaches at Fort Leavenworth, and his wife, Jan, moved in last week at the Power & Light Apartments. They plan to maintain their house in Leavenworth but use the apartment on four-day weekends as a pied-à-terre, a getaway place in the city.

They’re among the first of nearly 50 tenants to occupy the earliest available units in the office-to-residential conversion that has saved downtown’s most famous skyscraper.

The 32-story tower, with its signature light beacon at the top, is being revived for high-end living, part of a $70 million project by NorthPoint Development Co. An extensive tour of the building Wednesday revealed a mix of art deco preservation in the marbled public spaces and sleek modernity in the fresh apartments.

The renovation comes two years after the building lost its sole remaining business tenant, the BNIM architecture firm, which had offices on the first three floors.

Built in 1931, the ornate Indiana limestone-clad tower was the home of Kansas City Power & Light Co. until the utility relocated its headquarters in 1991. Since then, at least five would-be redevelopers proposed but failed to realize reuse plans.

NorthPoint paid $10 million for the property in 2014 from private investors in New York and “took on this project because of our belief in downtown and in Kansas City,” said Mark Pomerenke, NorthPoint’s vice president of operations.

The development team spent six months demolishing old interiors — some of which had sat vacant for 15 years — and 15 months so far in reconstruction.

“This building is something you cannot replace today,” Pomerenke said. “It was a difficult project, but one that had a lot of merit. We’ve got a beautiful building back in service, and we’re helping build the residential base downtown.”

NorthPoint received public help to tackle the renovation, including a complicated 25-year property tax abatement on the value of improvements. Through a plan approved by the city’s Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, NorthPoint makes payments in lieu of taxes that in effect reduce the abatement to an average of 36 percent during the abatement period. The developers are expected to pay an average of about $700 a year per unit in property taxes.

The city’s Tax Increment Financing Commission also directed $8 million from an existing TIF plan to cover part of the new parking garage cost of about $20 million. That plan had been approved for redevelopment of the Hilton President hotel across Baltimore from the KCP&L tower. Its success is expected to allow the city-backed bonds to be paid off early, leaving about four years of the plan to be redirected to the apartment project.

So far, floors 20 through 29 of the Power & Light Apartments have been fully renovated, and the first tenants arrived in May. The tower offers 210 units, a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments, each with 5-foot-by-8-foot windows that provide views as far as the horizon.

The views, the upscale appliances and the tenant amenities come at a price. Rents range from $995 to $3,600 a month depending on unit size, floor and view.

“We’re comparably priced with One Light,” Pomerenke said of the all-new apartment tower nearby at 13th and Walnut streets. “We’re asking people to pay a lot to live here, so we want to give them the highest-quality amenities.”

And there are amenities. A quick elevator ride to the basement reveals a workout room to rival that of any health club, a media/game room equipped with private lockers for tenants’ liquor, a spa, massage rooms and cushy lounges curtained in a “relaxation” niche.

The same elevator up to the 31st floor opens to a Gatsbyesque tenant lounge outfitted in black, white and gold with access to an outdoor terrace that circles the tower.

On every floor, the renovation maintains the original marble or terrazzo flooring in the public areas.

“One of the challenges in this historic preservation was that we could only use 60 percent of each floor’s space for apartments,” Pomerenke said. “In most apartment buildings, 80 percent of the floor space can be used for rent.”

Units in the tower range in size from about 700 square feet to about 1,500 square feet.

To make the necessary return on investment by having enough rental units, NorthPoint is also building a six-story apartment building immediately north of the tower along Baltimore. Those 81 new units won’t be available until spring 2017, along with a roof-deck pool for use by tower and new-building tenants.

The pool will be sandwiched between the new apartment construction and a 500-space multideck parking garage that already is open for tenants.

The most visually stunning part of the tower’s renovation is the first-floor space fronting 14th and Baltimore, which will reopen this fall as the Grand Hall at Power & Light.

“We already have a 400-guest wedding booked for Oct. 22,” said Nicholle McKenzie, director of sales and marketing for the event space.

With tables on the mezzanine that circles the ornate former KCP&L lobby, the space can accommodate 500, she said. It includes a catering kitchen, a bride’s dressing suite and a groom’s room complete with a bar.

“With all the marble and gold accents and the art deco nickel and brass chandeliers, it’s a space that works on its own,” McKenzie said. “It’s so ornate, you can do a lot with it or not so much because it’s so beautiful.”

McKenzie said she is still considering ideas for the space’s big display windows that KCP&L once used to showcase the newest appliances of the day.

As for today’s appliances, Pomerenke said he is proud of the top-of-the-line kitchens in each apartment, which include quartz countertops and backsplashes and hardwood floors. The units also are equipped with washers and dryers.

“I call it classic with a modern twist,” Pomerenke said. “All the walls and ceilings are finished. There’s no exposed brick. It’s not a loft feeling. And we have large closets — definitely an asset.”

The redevelopment team includes Neighbors Construction Company Inc. and NSPJ Architects. The project required overhaul of the elevators and heating and cooling systems and window replacement throughout.

“The building was kept in good shape,” Pomerenke said. “We have to thank previous owners for that.”

The tower’s signature beacon, as well as the facade of the building, are being lit with new LED lights, which can be changed by computer control.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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