Steve Paul

Steve Paul: One victory, one loss for historic preservation and the city’s fabric

One of four apartment buildings in the 100 block of West Armour Boulevard will be rehabilitated under a new plan announced Tuesday.
One of four apartment buildings in the 100 block of West Armour Boulevard will be rehabilitated under a new plan announced Tuesday. paul@kcstar.com

An earlier version of this column appeared online Thursday.

The forces for historic preservation scored one victory last week in Kansas City and one loss.

In one case, thanks goes to the three-year waiting period that developers could face when they hope to demolish important properties in Kansas City.

In the other, time and points of economic value caught up with a deteriorating row of modest apartment buildings on the Country Club Plaza.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee took up the two somewhat similar, somewhat different cases.

The committee approved a plan to rehab four apartment buildings on Armour Boulevard that earlier had been slated for replacement.

A few hours later, however, the committee disappointed preservationists by rejecting historic designation for three residential buildings on the Plaza attributed to the notable Kansas City architect Nelle Peters.

First things first.

MAC Properties, the development firm that has brought back to life hundreds of midtown apartments, got a thumbs up from the committee to proceed with a plan to spur development at all four corners of Armour and Troost Avenue. That could give a big jolt for a slowly growing revival of Troost.

But in another encouraging move, MAC then presented a new plan that would save a nearby patch of the midtown fabric by renovating one 18-unit building and three eight-unit buildings at 100 to 118 W. Armour Blvd. The buildings are attributed to architect John W. McKecknie, whose designs defined large swaths of midtown in the early part of the 20th century.

The buildings have been boarded up and were slated for demolition in about a year and a half.

Peter Cassel, MAC’s representative, declared the wisdom of hindsight and acknowledged that neighorhood leaders and historic preservationists were right to fight for saving the buildings, which, he said, “are quite stunning.”

Cassel also credited the arrival of Katheryn Shields to the City Council last year — she pressed for a solution to avoid demolition — and the availability of some surplus “building interruption” funds, which city officials had determined could be used for the project. The committee agreed to back the plan and the use of about $800,000 of those funds.

Cassel said the changing market, rising midtown rents and the ability to add a dozen basement apartment units to the buildings now made the project financially feasible. The rehab will also benefit from considerable state and federal historic tax credits.

Cassel acknowledged getting past the “root canal” of the process, especially when his company nearly two years ago was denied its demolition plan and forced to wait three years. He said he hoped that construction could begin soon and the buildings could be occupied by this time next year.

“We worked long and hard with the neighborhood to save these buildings,” Greg Allen, president of the Historic Kansas City Foundation, told the committee. “These buildings are part of the grand streetscape of Armour Boulevard.”

Allen emphasized that the outcome was evidence of the value of historic designations and the “very great value in these three-year waits. They allow a solution to come forward.”

It’s also evidence that good intentions, persistence and patience can lead to great things for the character of the city.

Unfortunately, the committee was less inclined to save three Tudor-style apartment buildings on the Plaza. After about three hours of testimony, it rejected a proposed ordinance to expand the existing Nelle Peters thematic historic district to include the three Green Gables apartments in the 4700 block of Summit St. It’s doubtful the full council will overturn that decision, so demolition is almost assured.

The developer’s side of the case presented overwhelming evidence that a new building would be economically feasible and rehab would not. The effort to save the apartments began too late. What’s most disappointing, though, is that the developer, Price Brothers, never saw the benefit to the Plaza of restoring the buildings from the outset.

Steve Paul: paul@kcstar.com, @sbpaul

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