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Kansas City's Waldo neighborhood grapples with an explosion of new development and attention

The owners of the long-vacant former Brandsmart building say they have plans to open owners say they have a brewery, coffee shop and retail store in the works.
Joyce Smith
The owners of the long-vacant former Brandsmart building say they have plans to open owners say they have a brewery, coffee shop and retail store in the works.

More apartments are being built in the long-established community, along with restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, a charcuterie, a piano bar, an arcade and retail shops. Waldo boosters believe the area could be entering something of a post-pandemic boom. 

A new $90 million, multi-story apartment building with a street-level restaurant isn’t scheduled to open in Waldo for a couple of years.

But it’s just the most high-profile project popping up in this long-established neighborhood in the heart of the Kansas City metro.

More apartments, along with restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, a charcuterie, a piano bar, an arcade and retail shops have recently opened, or are coming soon. Waldo boosters believe the area could be entering something of a post-pandemic boom.

“People love the area, the parkways and the boulevards,” said Marshal Blount, who owns several Waldo commercial properties. “People long before us created an incredible scene — the mature trees, the Dible Tudors, the fountains, the (Harry Wiggins) Trolley Track Trail. Then you take the services like the drug stores, the small-town feel and all the businesses that are privately owned.”

Housing spurt

Blount is a longtime resident and at one time owned about 20 commercial properties in the area. After remodeling his own 100-year-old Brookside home, he realized the “joy of living in the neighborhood I love but in a ‘new’ home.”

He’s betting others might feel the same way.

Now he’s nearly finished building The Romanelli Reserve — a three-story apartment complex on a former parking lot at 200 W. Gregory Blvd. Its nine units, scheduled to open in April, will boast 10-foot ceilings, quartz kitchen countertops and GE Profile appliances, hardwood floors, walk-in showers, large balconies off the living rooms and Juliet balconies off the master bedrooms.

“I’ve gone to great lengths to insulate and soundproof, and they will be pet-friendly,” Blount said. A designer will put in the finishing touches.

A few blocks south of Blount’s project, the Well Bar Restaurant Rooftop recently closed to make way for a new apartment building that will take up nearly an entire city block. The 74 Broadway project will be six stories high facing Wornall Road with five stories in the back. The Well will return to the ground floor of the new project.

An artist's rendering of the Waldo74Broadway development. The $90 million project will receive a 75% tax break for 20 years.
EPC Real Estate Group
An artist's rendering of the Waldo74Broadway development. The $90 million project will receive a 75% tax break for 20 years.

The 74 Broadway project isn’t the only big Waldo-area apartment project being pursued by the developer, EPC Real Estate Group of Overland Park.

EPC also is making plans to develop Meadow Lake Apartments, a multi-family development on 3.3 acres at Meadow Lake Parkway and State Line Road (across State Line Road from the Prairie Village Hy-Vee). Plans for Meadow Lake Apartments call for a 213-unit, three-and-four-story complex, above a parking garage with 237 stalls.

It will have two courtyards, a fitness center, a lounge, a pool, a golf simulator and a co-working space. The project also calls for retail and office tenants.

Diane Botwin launched Botwin Commercial Development with her parents in 1986. Their projects include Waldo buildings housing such popular tenants as Crows Coffee, Boru Asian Eatery, Johnny Kaw’s Sports Bar, Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe, and the new Salumi Rose charcuterie shop. Botwin also put up 7540 Washington Apartments to house young adults aging out of foster care.

Five years ago, she bought a one-story former icehouse that had long been home to flea markets and antique peddlers. It was in such a sorry shape — with a leaky roof rotting the interior — that it had to be demolished. Botwin replaced it with a five-story, 44-unit apartment building, 222 Waldo Flats, one of the first new apartment projects in Waldo in decades.

Waldo Flats features oversized windows, balconies, in-unit washers and dryers, walk-in closets, on-site parking and bicycle storage. She commissioned a local fabric artist to design a unique piece for the lobby of the building. Littlefield Eye Associates, and Bicycle Depot KC operate on the street level.

“I saw a huge need,” Botwin said. “We expected it to be a multi-generational building because Waldo is just a multi-generational area. Once we filled it, we have been basically full ever since.”

Bars, restaurants and shops

Neighborhood favorites such as Governor Stumpy’s Grill House, McLain’s Bakery, Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant and Waldo Pizza have had decades-long success.

But when Blount started buying commercial properties a decade ago, he would get one filled, then see another landlord lose a tenant down the street.

“It was two steps forward, one step back. You would see all this great growth and then have these vacancies,” he said.

But fresh momentum has been building.

An exterior view of a bright red building shows two black signs hanging. They depict a person playing a wind instrument, sitting cross-legged. The signs read "Waldo Thai."
Carlos Moreno
The entrance to Waldo Thai lies behind the building.

Waldo Thai now draws fans from across the metro. Springfield’s Andy’s Frozen Custard demolished a dated liquor store for a shiny new building with patio seating. Strip’s Chicken updated a former KFC/Long John Silver’s, and the Price Chopper shopping center was revamped with Joy Wok Super Buffet & Hibachi Grill joining the mix.

Cosmo Burger started selling smash burgers and tater tots out of Dodson’s Bar & Commons’ kitchen and became so popular it expanded to Lenexa Public Market. Likewise, Marco Polo Selections wine shop and tasting room now has an Olathe shop. Pizza Tascio joined the roster of Gregory restaurants, and Jovito’s Italian Cafe & Deli moved from south Kansas City.

Ashley Bare ran a meal delivery service for a couple of years during the pandemic. Then she spent five months remodeling the former District Pour House + Kitchen for Hemma Hemma.

It opened in September with an elevated, cafeteria-style restaurant serving “healthful,” globally inspired food for dine-in or grab-and-go; a retail shop featuring local products; and a coffee bar with house-made pastries. It also offers cooking classes and will soon have pick-up catering.

“A lot of our existing clientele were from here. We are surrounded by neighborhoods, families, and I grew up in the area, so it felt very familiar to me, and it is very locally oriented,” Bare said. “And I felt Waldo was craving something like this — more family-oriented, more variety in the cuisine.”

Upscale sports bar Social has more than 20 TVs, live music, and a menu that includes Nashville hot chicken, bourbon-glazed salmon, popper burgers and weekend brunch.

“I used to hang out there, I used to love going down there — a fun little bar district,” said Shawn Larson, a partner in Social. “We knew if we could add an elevated sports bar, the area would support it and they’ve done that above and beyond. The Waldo people have been amazing to us. I’ve seen these regulars in here three, four, five days a week.

“We want to be there for a long, long time. Just a lot of good stuff going on in Waldo.”

Coming soon in Waldo

A brick and stone monument with the word Waldo on all four sides at the corner of a busy traffic intersection.
Libby Hanssen
KCUR 89.3
Citizens of Waldo erected this monolithic monument at the corner of 75th and Wornall Road in 1997 as a gathering place. Seen in the background is one of the oldest buildings in Waldo is Pitkins Hall, built in 1907, which now houses a Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe.

Waldo is “jumping,” locals say, with many projects in the works.

The former Brandsmart building has been under redevelopment for nearly two decades, so long that area residents have created Facebook pages to vent their frustrations.

Now the owners say they have a brewery, coffee shop and retail store in the works. If all goes as planned, they could open in the fall.

Across Gregory Boulevard, City Barrel Pizza + Patio plans an April opening for its taproom serving New York-style pizza. It will “really focus on being a neighborhood joint,” said partner James Stutsman.

Dave Smith the Lamp Maker closed after more than five decades. A new owner of the building has gutted and updated it as a “white shell” for new tenants. A drug testing facility is taking part of the space for a February opening, but 7,000 square feet is still available.

Johnny Kaw’s will convert to an arcade Waldo Bar & Rec (it has a sister operation, Westport Bar & Rec). A brewery and cafe are in the works for 220 W. 74th St., east of Wornall.

The Piano Room also has secured a permit for a space at 332 W. 75th St. The owner did not return phone calls.

Only a handful of commercial spots are still available, including the former Pride Cleaners with its own parking lot, and a former paint store next to the popular Betty Rae’s Ice Cream — both on high-traffic Wornall.

The Pride Cleaners had once been a QuikTrip. A fresh produce stand operates in the parking lot during the spring and summer months. David M. Block of Block and Co. Inc. Realtors has been in talks with restaurants, but he wants a “unique concept that would be frequented by the neighborhood.”

“We would like a single use. We would love to have a barbecue there,” Block said. “I’m very, very hot and interested in the upswing for the Waldo area. I think it has some great opportunities. It has nowhere to go but up.”

Another key vacancy is the former Burger King next to the QuikTrip at 72nd Street and Wornall. Jeff Berg, partner of Elevate Property Advisors, said a deal is expected to close later this month or in early February. He declined to name the buyer.

However, Waldo sources say QuikTrip has long been in negotiations to expand to the site.

Some residents and businesses express interest in extending the streetcar line to Waldo, and upgrading curbs, storm sewers and gnarled sidewalks.

Traffic along Wornall has been a growing concern. But a city plan to revamp the 75th and Wornall intersection with left turn lanes for traffic going east and west is scheduled to start soon, among other road improvements.

Residents also want improvements on the trolley trail (a parking lot disrupts the flow at 75th and Wornall), more green space, and the redevelopment of the former Bingham Middle School site at 7618 Wyandotte St.

Sean Anderson of the Waldo Area Business Association is also pushing for more affordable housing in the area, which is bound by Gregory, 91st Street, Holmes Road and State Line Road. Median income is $71,460 for the 64114 zip code, with a median gross rent of $1,123 a month.

Blount would like to see more “highbrow restaurants” much like Bacaro Primo in Crestwood Shops, which he called “small, approachable, quaint, and the food is fantastic. Maybe a wine loft. Fancy but not extra fancy. Just fine-tune it a little bit.”

Striking the right balance will be important as Waldo evolves.

Keith Bradley, a partner in Front Range Coffeehouse & Provisions and an area resident, wants more locally owned restaurants with later operating hours.

“I know there’s a lot of stuff coming to Waldo. I’m more worried about what we would lose,” he said. “I hope we can keep more neighborhood-centered, small business focused.”

This story was originally published on Flatland, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Flatland contributor Joyce Smith has covered retail and restaurants for nearly 40 years with The Kansas City Star.
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