Steve Paul

Steve Paul: Midtown housing is on an urban upswing

An 80-unit apartment building by MAC Properties, comprising factory-made modules, is planned for construction in May at 34th Terrace and Main Street.
An 80-unit apartment building by MAC Properties, comprising factory-made modules, is planned for construction in May at 34th Terrace and Main Street.

From where he was sitting, in the Filling Station coffee shop, Peter Cassel had a clear view of a residential boomlet occurring in midtown Kansas City.

A mix of recent vintage apartment buildings, the renovated Greenlease Cadillac lofts and a new block of units under construction on Gillham Road are forming a prominent bastion of density along the eastern edge of the Union Hill neighborhood.

They also affirm the pioneering work Cassel’s company began almost a decade ago a few blocks to the south. Cassel, of Chicago, represents MAC Properties. Lured by the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, it entered the Kansas City market in 2007, when it acquired and began to renovate a handful of historic apartment hotels on and around Armour Boulevard. Today’s slow but sure midtown revival was born.

Cassel’s company had gained experience renovating similar properties in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. It also has a solid footprint in the Central West End of St. Louis.

What ties all these places together? The nearby presence of colleges and hospitals plus residents whose income rises faster than the rate of inflation. That’s how Cassel described MAC’s recipe for success.

Two or three projects on the boards promise to make further waves in an ever-widening swath of midtown.

The company in December landed city support for its plan to develop all four corners of the intersection of Armour and Troost Avenue. The vision involves creating a destination location with restaurants, entertainment, art, maker spaces and other activities, forming a lively gathering place at a symbolically important junction of two urban corridors.

In continuing contact with neighborhood organizations, Cassel said he plans to meet next month with the Troost Coalition to further explore needs and possibilities.

“To be in a city where neighborhoods are engaged and involved is a sign of strength,” he said.

Cassel credited neighborhood interests he had previously sparred with for pressing the issue of preserving a group of historic apartments on Armour, west of Main Street.

He also credited architects at El Dorado for having the fresh urban eyes to envision adding basement units in those buildings, which helped make the restoration project financially feasible instead of demolition and new construction.

El Dorado also has designed something of a first for MAC and Kansas City.

An 80-unit apartment building, comprising factory-made modules, will go up on a former parking lot at 34th Terrace and Main Street. Abutting an existing Burger King restaurant, the building will have a narrow storefront facing Main topped by a modulated block of apartment “boxes.”

“It’s tackling a very important issue in our city,” El Dorado’s Doug Stockman told me, “which is repurposing parking lots back to places we occupy.”

The apartment units will soon be fabricated at a plant in Indiana and will be assembled, above ground-level parking, in a matter of weeks in May.

The process, Stockman says, is cost-effective and ensures a high level of quality control at the factory. “What we get,” he said, “is a shortened time line for construction.”

A rendering promises an attractively modern five-story statement on Main Street. As with other housing projects, whether built by MAC Properties or other developers in surrounding blocks, it offers much needed density to the growing urban core and “workforce” housing opportunities at various income levels.

Residents of many of these buildings would be future users of an extended streetcar line down Main. And they will help make midtown an even more economically successful link between downtown, Westport and the Country Club Plaza as well as a catalyst for further development along Troost Avenue and beyond.

Steve Paul:, @sbpaul