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Is Residential Development Right For Kansas City's West Bottoms?

Cody Newill

A new push for residential development in Kansas City's West Bottoms has some strong support and strong opposition.

Rancher and real estate developer Bill Haw started construction on a new apartment building at 1515 Genessee St., in July. The goal for the 11 unit complex is to draw families into the West Bottoms.

"There haven't been many families with young children moving back to the central core," Haw said. "I think that's an essential part of the transition to rebuilding the core of the city."

For decades, Kansas City's West Bottoms was nearly vacant. The Great Flood of 1951 destroyed the factories and stockyards, and put two million acres of land underwater. It took over 40 years and a combination of haunted houses, businesses and festivals to bring interest back into the area.

Recent success makes Haw confident that residential development can thrive, but some aren't so sure. Michael Frisch, University of Missouri-Kansas City's Urban Planning and Design Program Director, says that the industrial history of the area makes it unsuitable for children.

"Young families? You've got to be kidding," Frisch said. "I would not encourage anyone who is not an artist, who doesn't need big industrial loft space, to be down there with kids."

Amber Arnett-Bequeaith, Vice President of Full Moon Productions, the company behind the West Bottoms haunted houses, is also unsure about people moving into the West Bottoms. Her company has even worked with other developers in the Bottoms to create renter disclosures that lay out what new tenants should expect.

"If you move into the West Bottoms, you must sign a disclaimer that says, 'I understand there are planes, trains, automobiles and werewolves, and those things aren't going to go away,'" Arnett-Bequeaith said. "We're taking the right steps."

Arnett-Bequeaith admits that residential development will likely be inevitable, but wants make sure it doesn't expand too quickly. She also worries that new residents will have unrealistic expectations for the area as a whole.

Meanwhile, Bill Haw's apartments are coming closer to completion every day. The building is expected to be finished next year. Haw is also toying with the idea of developing an additional 17 acres of land into living space.

"That land is actually in Kansas, even though it's on (the east) side of the Missouri River," Haw said. "There's a tremendous opportunity there for people who want to live in the core, but have reason to want to live on the Kansas side."

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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