Denver Investor Looks To Kansas City's River Market For His Development 'Play'
Craig Slawson knows a lot about oil exploration, a business his family has been in for 60 years.
In that industry, when you find a "play," you’ve identified a geological region where conditions are ripe for discovering oil fields, lots of them.
Now that he’s expanded into real estate, the Denver-based founder of Epoch Developments believes he’s located a promising new "play" for that business in the River Market.
He’s going in big, buying 10 historic buildings on the west side of a three-block stretch of Delaware Street between 3rd Street and Independence Avenue, and nearby property along Wyandotte as well.
“What caught my eye in Kansas City is the same thing we see in Denver, just seven years behind,” Slawson said. “People enjoy higher density areas with vintage buildings and clean and safe streets. I decided it was time to look at Kansas City. Once the streetcar initiative passed, I started to look harder.
“The streetcar was the catalyst for me.”
And at a time when development pressure is swelling in the River Market, with several new apartment projects completed and more on the way, Slawson has big plans to add a hotel, condominiums and many more street-level merchants to the mix.
The section of Delaware where Slawson has landed has arguably the most pristine collection of mid- to late 19th century buildings in Kansas City. His first priority is to upgrade the 111 apartments already in place in those buildings and get much more activity on the street.
“Between 3rd and Independence, there are 33 doors on the street and only seven are merchants,” Slawson said. “I hope to announce four new merchants this fall – think brew pubs, tacos, ice cream – and three new patios along the sidewalk.”
In the gap between the historic buildings now occupied by a large parking lot behind the streetcar stop, he wants to build a three- to four-story marketplace building, about 60,000 square feet, with roll-up doors where small vendors could do business.
His grandest plan calls for a 12-story combination boutique hotel and condominium building at the southeast corner of 3rd St. and Wyandotte. The hotel would be on the lower floors, the condos above.
“Think of the views of the airport, the river and downtown,” Slawson said.
Other potential infill construction sites are at the northwest corner of 3rd and Delaware and behind an existing building at the southeast corner of that same intersection.
Slawson said his preferred building materials for the potential new projects are iron, brick and glass.
All those new projects, including the hotel and condominiums, won’t proceed until he’s lined up users.
“I’m not building spec,” Slawson said. “I need to find tenants.”
He does believe that despite all the new apartments going up in the River Market, there’s room for more residents.
“We’ve barely hit the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There’s a cycle here, when enough millennials and creatives live down there, they’ll refuse to go to office parks.
“Then companies need to come downtown for the talent, creating the need for more condos and office space.”
For now, his first construction will be relatively modest.
He plans to build six townhouses along Wyandotte next to existing townhouses developed by the late Tom Trabon. That work is expected to begin this winter.
Touching back on his Denver experience, Slawson also is strongly in favor of eventually bringing the Royals to a downtown ballpark, triggering the same kind of development activity Coors Field has brought to the LoDo District of Denver.
He also supports the concept of removing the North Loop freeway and reconnecting the River Market to the rest of downtown.
Developers already experienced in the River Market welcome Slawson’s involvement in the area.
“I’m very excited about him renovating and putting money into those current apartments,” said Chris Sally of Development Initiatives, LLC. “It’s probably the best stretch of streetscape in the city.
“I also feel the River Market is a great location for a hotel and I hope he’s able to develop one, it would be a great asset.”
Dana Gibson of Mallin/Gibson Properties said Slawson’s promised investment will help take the River Market to the “next level.”
“All of his plans conceptually I’m very much in favor of,” he said. “I’d love to see that investment in the neighborhood. I’m optimistic and hopeful he’ll do the right thing.”
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.