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First Major Renovation Project In Kansas City's West Bottoms To Start Soon

Kevin Collison
The Wyoming Building will be part of the West Bottoms Flats.

Construction is expected to begin soon on the $68 million West Bottoms Flats apartment development, the first major renovation project in the downtown warehouse district that fueled Kansas City’s economic growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cleveland-based MCM Company plans to renovate three historic buildings on the north side of the West Bottoms — the Abernathy (1501 W. Ninth St.), the Liberty (912 Liberty), and the Wyoming (925 Wyoming) — into 265 market-rate apartments. The Bemis building at 937 Wyoming will become a 201-space garage.

Melissa Ferchill, MCM's founder and owner, said she first became familiar with Kansas City while visiting her college boyfriend here during the summers.

Credit MCM Company
Four historic buildings will be renovated in the $68 million West Bottoms Flats project.

“I think there’s a ton of potential (in the West Bottoms),” she said. “We love it there and city is very development friendly and pro-growth.”

MCM purchased the properties in February 2016. Since then, it’s been seeking the incentives it said were required to make the deal work financially, and last Thursday the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority approved a sales tax exemption on construction materials.

One of the last “pieces of the puzzle,” according to the project's attorney, Jerry Riffel, was obtaining approval for state historic tax credits, which are raising $20 million for the deal. It also has a 13-year property tax abatement.

The incentives are necessary, the developers said, because of the age and condition of the massive brick buildings and the extensive renovation work required.

The Abernathy and Liberty Buildings were historically home to the Abernathy Furniture Company. The Abernathy dates to 1880 with additions in 1890, 1900 and 1905. The Liberty was built in 1900.

Credit Kevin Collison
The Abernathy building will be renovated into apartments as part of the West Bottoms Flats development.

The Wyoming and Bemis Buildings were historically home to the Bemis Bag Co. The Wyoming was built in 1904 with an addition in 1910, and the Bemis was completed in 1920.

Those buildings, plus scores of others, formed the historic industrial heart of Kansas City a century ago. In documentation accompanying its PIEA application, the West Bottoms was described as the original downtown.

“The area capitalized on the industrial revolution of the railroad industry becoming a distribution hub for mid-western cattle around the nation allowing smaller industries such as seed warehouses, furniture stores and household products to prosper,” according the application.

Credit MCM Company
The West Bottoms Flats project will include green courtyards for residents.

The decline of the West Bottoms was hastened by devastating floods in 1903 and 1951. Today, the area is a hodgepodge of active industrial uses, artists' lofts, antique shops and other commercial uses.

It’s also beginning to attract substantial investment.

The Hy-Vee Arena, formerly the Kemper, is nearing completion of a $39 million renovation as an amateur sports complex. The Yards, a $41 million, 232-unit apartment project is under construction nearby.

But the massive old brick industrial buildings slated to become the West Bottoms Flats have been relatively untouched. Ferchill said she likes to be a pioneer when it comes to development.

“We do a lot of emerging-area projects,” she said. “I like the idea of paving the way.”

She also praised the state historic tax credit program.

Other factors drawing her to Kansas City include its steady job growth, its underserved downtown housing market and what she called the most “unique vibe” of any major community between Chicago and Denver.

The West Bottom Flats units will range from smaller “micro-apartments” renting at under $1,000, to one-bedroom units going for $1,200- to $1,300. There also will be some two-bedroom apartments as well.

And in a unique twist, residents will enjoy valet parking in the old Bemis building. Because of its interior layout, elevators will be installed to hoist cars to their parking spaces.

Credit Kevin Collison
The Bemis building will be renovated as a 201-space garage.

Other amenities will include courtyards, rooftop patios, bike storage, bocce ball courts, grilling patios and an outdoor theater. The project also includes 10,000 square feet of retail space.

Credit MCM Company
A rendering showing an overhead view of a courtyard at West Bottoms Flats.

Construction is expected to begin in 30 days with completion in late 2019. The architect is BNIM, the contractor is Rau Construction.

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.

Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.
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