By Diane Stafford | The Kansas City Star
The area known as Kansas City’s West Bottoms generally splays southeast from the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers, a low-lying stretch west of downtown’s bluffs.
The north end, crossed by Interstate 70 and railroad tracks, is finding new life in its hulking warehouses, many now turned into comparatively low-cost lofts, antique malls and pop-up entertainment venues.
The other end, south of Interstate 670, is different, and Bill Haw wants it to have its own name: the Stockyards District.
Haw, major property owner and chief cheerleader for the area that once housed cattle pens, takes nothing away from the West Bottoms’ trendy conversions. But he thinks that families, especially, will want to live in the Stockyards District, and he’s on a mission to brand it as the city’s up-and-coming residential neighborhood.
Building on a commercial renewal that’s been as organic as the evolution of the Crossroads Arts District, Haw and others are zeroed in on the area south of Interstate 670.
“Let the West Bottoms north of 670 keep the West Bottoms name,” Haw said. “The area south of 670 has a different character and quality. My objective for the Stockyards District is to create a neighborhood where I think young families will stay after they have children.”
Haw started the residential push two years ago with a small first step. He developed an 11-unit, luxury apartment building on the 1500 block of Genessee Street. Named Stockyards Place, it was the first new residential structure built in the district for about a century.
It’s now about three-fourths occupied, and he remains bullish on its high-end prospects, where rents range from about $1,600 to $5,600 a month.
But to build a true residential community, he’s now turned attention to a bigger — and more midpriced — residential option on Genessee’s 1600 block. Haw has teamed with national developer Flaherty & Collins Properties to build The Yards, a 236-unit apartment complex on a 2.5-acre parking lot next to the historic Livestock Exchange Building that he owns.
From 1911 to 1951, the Livestock Exchange Building was the epicenter of stockyards activity. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the nine-story brick building has anchored the neighborhood for decades. In 1991, Haw poured $13 million into its office renovations.
But commercial space alone doesn’t make a community, Haw said.
The Kansas City Council gave final approval last week for The Yards, planned to be built on the Livestock Exchange Building’s adjacent parking lot. Two L-shaped buildings, positioned around a planned green space, are slated for that corner of Genessee and American Royal Drive.
Tenants will use part of the existing West Bottoms Garage, a multideck, city-owned garage immediately west of the development.
“Without a doubt, I think the Stockyard District will be one of the more long-term, cool neighborhoods in Kansas City,” said Ryan Cronk, Vice President of Development at Flaherty & Collins Properties, based in Indianapolis.
“We look at the urban core of Kansas City, and we feel that it’s behind some of the other cities in residential building. We don’t share the view that multifamily is getting overbuilt.”
Cronk said the company hopes to break ground this fall and have market-rate units ready to rent 12 months later.
At the Amigoni Winery and Event Space on Genessee, owner Kerry Amigoni couldn’t be more delighted about the district’s redevelopment.
“We started in 2007 in the old Livestock Exchange Building and then moved across the street to the old Telegram Building in 2012,” Amigoni said. “We’ve seen quite an evolution in things that draw people down here.”
The evolution includes residential, restaurant and business redevelopment.
“By adding those luxury apartments, Bill established a very good customer base that loves to be in the neighborhood,” Amigoni said. “With more units, the base will be even better.”
Along with the winery, which draws customers from all over, particularly on the weekends, there are other destination eating spots.
The owners of Voltaire, an upscale restaurant and bar on Genessee, also are working to spruce up and reopen the famed Golden Ox steakhouse in the Livestock Exchange Building. Add in the Stockyards Brewery, the Genessee Royale Bistro, the West Bottoms Kitchen, Lucky Boys bar and restaurant, and Rockstar Burgers for a vibrant restaurant district.
Meanwhile, businesses are contributing patrons. Workers from Butler, a BlueScope Steel North America property in the 1500 block of Genessee, and a Missouri State office building in the 1400 block crowd the restaurants at weekday lunchtime and happy hours. Close by, Mark One Electric has committed to move into an office building vacated by Gateway computer center in 2006.
Haw said the Livestock Exchange building is about 80 percent leased by business tenants. Two other companies, KEM and Phro-ne-sis Design, have taken ground-floor commercial space at the three-story luxury apartment building.
The measured changes in the area are such that Haw and others are confident of lasting strength with or without the planned $30 million conversion of Kemper Arena to Mosaic Arena, a proposed two-level amateur sports center with basketball, track, fitness and sports medicine facilities.
Steve Foutch, the arena redeveloper, has a public/private financing plan generally in place except for approval of a crucial state historic tax credit contribution worth more than $6 million. A new fiscal year for such credits through the Missouri Department of Economic Development began July 1, and Foutch is hoping to be among recipients.
Foutch last year was able to get Kemper Arena listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes it eligible for federal and state tax credits.
Once the full financing package is in hand, Haw said he intends to participate as an equity partner. He also intends to assist Flaherty & Collins Properties in the apartment project financing and then plans to sell the property to that company.
“I’m very excited about adding residents down here,” Haw said, “but can you imagine what it will mean to have hundreds of families here, just about 24/7 for sports events?”
Haw said he’s already been approached by a hotel chain to build a quality hotel on acreage he owns near the Butler office building — “a great location for an attractive interstate hotel.”
There’s another Stockyards District asset that hasn’t been getting much public attention, and Haw intends to make that better known. He owns 3,000 linear feet of land along the Kansas River, just beyond the city’s parking garage.
“It’s the only footage accessible to the river that isn’t blocked by concrete walls,” Haw said. “What a cool place for families to use.”
Currently, a No Trespassing sign deters foot traffic. On Friday afternoon, the only sign of life was two horses grazing in a fenced area across from the garage.
At 78 years old, Haw says he can be patient with his Stockyards District dreams — but only to a point. He’s happy that others are sharing his vision and repopulating an area that most Kansas Citians bypassed except for American Royal or Kemper events.
The American Royal has expressed interest in moving across the state line to Wyandotte County, and Kemper’s renovation is stalled by the missing financial piece.
But Stockyards District boosters are bullish. They say they’re taking nothing away from the compatible West Bottoms’ resurgence where lower-cost lofts, antique establishments, and pop-up entertainment venues have blossomed in old warehouse buildings.
“Our objective is to create a true sense of neighborhood, a safe place for families of all ages,” Haw said.