$19.5 million plan would turn Argyle Building downtown into 102 apartments

The historic Argyle Building at 12th and McGee streets is in line for a $19.5 million makeover that will convert the long-vacant building into 102 apartments by 2014.

Since 2006, at least two other efforts to revive the 107-year-old building fizzled. This time the development team combines the financial resources of Hunt Midwest Real Estate Development with the historic renovation expertise of the Sunflower Group.

The new entity, Hunt Argyle LLC, also has made a breakthrough on parking, which frustrated the previous efforts.

It has a tentative agreement with city officials to lease 150 spaces in the adjoining 1,400-space city garage at 12th and Oak streets to provide parking for residents. That deal however, still must be approved by the Kansas City Council.

The developers plan to build a $300,000 skywalk to connect the garage parking to the 10-story Argyle Building. They also have a tentative deal with the city to buy a surface parking lot north of the Argyle to provide 33 spaces for the first-floor retail planned for the project.

This would be the first redevelopment venture by Hunt Midwest in downtown Kansas City. The company, owned by the Lamar Hunt family, operates the SubTropolis underground industrial park and has built several suburban residential projects, primarily in the Northland, and a housing development in a more established area of North Kansas City.

Sunflower, which is led by Jason Swords, recently redeveloped the historic Gate City National Bank building at 1111 Grand Blvd. to accommodate the Ambassador, a new boutique hotel, and is renovating the historic Cosby Hotel at Ninth Street and Baltimore Avenue to house a delicatessen, bakery and office space.

Ora Reynolds, president and CEO of Hunt Midwest, said her firm had recently expanded its real estate staff to include people with expertise in historic renovation projects and was looking for an urban project.

“When Jason came to us, we were intrigued with the real estate,” she said. “We love the job base close by and the … choice of people living downtown.”

The apartments will rent at around $1.25 per square foot, Reynolds said, and will have high-grade finishes including granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. The building would be renovated into a mix of studio and one- and two-bedroom units, but the final design has not been completed.

At its meeting Thursday, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority unanimously approved reassigning the development rights to the Argyle project to Hunt Argyle LLC and its accompanying 25-year property tax abatement. One of the previous development attempts that fell through was for apartments; the other was for a boutique hotel.

The abatement is for 10 years at 100 percent and 15 years at 50 percent. The developer also will seek federal and state historic tax credits.

Attorney Jim Bowers, the developers’ attorney, said if the City Council approved the parking lease, construction on the Argyle project would begin in March and be expected to be completed in October 2014.

The Argyle was designed by renowned architect Louis S. Curtiss, and the office building opened in 1905. Curtiss also designed the 1909 Boley Clothing Co. building at 12th and Walnut streets. The Argyle has been vacant for at lease 15 years.

Redeveloping the Argyle into apartments will help meet a goal established by the Downtown Council, a group of property and business owners, to double the downtown population.

Demand for downtown rental units is steep — the current occupancy rate is more than 95 percent. The Downtown Council recently presented a list of nine projects to the city, including the Argyle, which if completed would add about 1,475 apartments to the downtown core.