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Developers Hope To Lure UMKC Arts Campus With Tricked-Out Westport High School Building

KCUR 89.3 file photo
Westport High School, which is more than 100 years old, could end up housing UMKC's conservatory.

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:40 p.m. Thursday to reflect City Council actions.

The old Westport High School is a step closer to a new life as apartments, retail and maybe the future home of the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s music and dance conservatory.  

On Wednesday, developers laid out their plans before a Kansas City Council committee. And on Thursday, the full Council approved the proposal unaminously. 

Sustainable Development Partners, which also restored the middle school across the street, want to turn the 100-year-old brick building at 315 E. 39th Street into 250,000 square feet of commercial space in hopes of landing the arts campus.

Councilman Scott Taylor noted the success of middle school-turned-coworking space, called Plexpod Westport Commons.

“The Plexpod (has) been incredible. There are meetings there every day and community groups coming together and this [project] will just expand that whole integration of these buildings into the community and reuse,” Taylor said.

In September, UMKC announced it would no longer be seeking a location downtown. That’s when Westport High School emerged as a candidate.

If UMKC doesn’t select the Westport site, developers say they will split up the commercial space for multiple tenants.  

Credit Sustainable Development Partners Kansas City
This rendering shows the scheme of the buildings if Westport High School were selected for UMKC's arts campus. Developers have an alternate set-up if the site is not selected.

Plans also include 220 multifamily units along Locust Street, a parking garage and some retail along 39th and Warwick. The old high school building would house the commercial space, with new construction for the apartments and retail.

The proposal requires some changes in zoning in the area, which the planning, zoning and economic development committee approved unanimously. The full council will consider the changes Thursday.

The school, which closed in 2010, was one of dozens shuttered by the Kansas City Public Schools at the time. Councilwoman Katheryn Shields says she is optimistic for the future of the historic building.

“These developers have very good reputations in this community for the quality of the work and the thoughtfulness of the projects they put forward,” Shields said.

Representatives from architecture firm BNIM and real estate firm Platform Ventures joined the team from Sustainable Development Partners.

The developers expect to use Missouri's Historic Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits, which award incentives for investment in low-income communities, but they are not seeking a property tax abatement.

On Thursday, UMKC spokesman John Martellaro wrote KCUR in an email that “at this time, we are not making any comments on any of the proposals we have received, or [proposals] on our table for a decision.” 

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig.

KCUR's Laura Spencer contributed to this report.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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