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As Its Suburbs Start To Look More Like Cities, Kansas City Deals With Growing Pains In 2020

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Julie Denesha
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KCUR 89.3
The 800-room Loews convention hotel is scheduled to open in downtown Kansas City, Missouri this spring.

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Buzz about new housing and development in the metro has focused on downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The past two decades saw former warehouses and old buildings converted to lofts at lightning speed.

Gleaming high-rise apartments changed the skyline, streetcars began zipping to the River Market and a major gourmet grocery store joined new shops, salons and restaurants.

But with this growth came questions, and protests. Newly organized activists are concerned about gentrification and the lack of affordable housing amidst the housing boom. They’re raising long-standing questions about whether magnanimous tax breaks to lure developers are being offered on the backs of the working poor.

KCUR will be following all of these issues, as Kansas City leaders expect to see growth accelerate in 2020 with more luxury housing, the completion of an 800-room convention hotel and high-rent office towers. At the same time, suburbs surrounding Kansas City are thriving with population growth, mushrooming housing projects and multi-use developments. Many residential areas in Overland Park and Lenexa now have the same kind of amenities for which people historically traveled to the city center.

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WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Kansas City used to pride itself as an affordable place to live. As the metro evolves, however, low- and even middle-income people are at risk of being forced out of the places where they’ve lived for decades. This year will bring continued debate over granting generous tax breaks to large developers, and city leaders will be tasked with ensuring growth doesn’t happen at the expense of the most vulnerable citizens.

The changing housing and development landscape also raises questions about community. As more people find jobs and leisure activities closer to home, are we becoming more isolated where we live?

WHAT TO WATCH

  • Work on Three Light, the Cordish company’s latest luxury apartment building in downtown Kansas City, is set to begin early this year. It’s the third prominent high-rise for the Power & Light District developer, which has plans for Four, Five and even Six Light. But as advocates lean on city officials to address the affordable housing crisis, Cordish may have to make concessions on rent prices and types of units.
  • After months of negotiation on two big incentive packages, work will begin on several downtown office towers. Financial services company Waddell & Reed will build a new headquarters at 1400 Baltimore as it relocates from its current headquarters in Overland Park. Another office tower at 1300 Main, called Strata, has no tenants lined up and Platform Ventures expects to start construction on a 14-story office tower at 13th and Wyandotte early this year.
  • With multi-million dollar homes going up in Beacon Hill and trendy lofts along 30th street, Troost Avenue is seeing a lot of activity. Once considered a racial dividing line in Kansas City, some longtime residents have noticed that the street “is getting awfully white.” That trend will be something to monitor as more mixed use developments and apartments go up along the thoroughfare in 2020.
  • The 14 cities of Platte County, Missouri — including popular destinations Parkville and Weston — had the fastest-growing population in the Kansas City Metro since the 2010 census. Real estate is booming according to brokers; families and renters can get cheaper and newer homes in Platte than in the other outer suburbs. The new airport is expected to continue this growth. The municipality of North Kansas City boasts progress on a series of development projects including spiffing up the Burlington Corridor and Armour Road.
  • Development is booming in Johnson County, and activity is expected to continue into 2020. Hundreds of new apartments have already gone up in Overland Park, where new shops and restaurants have created a downtown renaissance and farther south, there are plans to break ground on a new sports complex. The beleaguered Mission Gateway development, on hold for more than a decade, is now underway with plans for an entertainment center, a food hall and hotel. Olathe plans to put a major new apartment complex on the site of the old library downtown, and build a new library, with space for community meetings, a restaurant and office space.

BY THE NUMBERS

$1,057 — The average rent for a 2-bedroom unit in the Kansas City Metro area in 2019. That’s an increase of nearly 46% over the average price in 2011.
1,355 — The number of new hotel rooms Visit KC estimates will open in Kansas City’s downtown area in 2020.
42 — The average number of evictions filed per business day in Jackson County, Missouri, between 1999 and 2017.
2,325 — The number of residential building permits in Johnson County for October 2019. That compares with 353 in Clay County and 0 in Edgerton.

KEY PLAYERS:

Cordish

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Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Luxury apartment buildings such as Two Light have proliferated in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, just outside the entertainment district developed by Cordish.

The Power & Light District developer, based in Baltimore, Maryland, has been integral in downtown’s revitalization. The developer built two luxury high-rise residential towers and has plans for more. But it’s also come under criticism for its reliance on generous tax incentives from the city. And Kansas City taxpayers are still on the hook for debt payments because the entertainment district doesn’t generate enough revenue.

Tara Raghuveer
Director, KC Tenants

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Credit File photo by Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3

The 27-year-old activist moved back to her hometown in 2019. Within a year, she'd organized a powerful group of renters called KC Tenants who successfully drafted and passed a Tenants' Bill of Rights to protect renters in the city. Raghuveer remains a power player in Kansas City politics and will likely be a significant voice in conversations about affordable and equitable housing policy.

Quinton Lucas
Mayor, Kansas City, Missouri

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Credit Michelle Tyrene Johnson / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3

Mayor Lucas campaigned in part on increasing the city's stock of affordable housing and making sure economic development is spread across the city — not just downtown. While he made progress on some of these goals in 2019, a few crucial pieces of legislation — including one that would require developers seeking tax breaks to include a certain percentage of affordable units — remain in committee.

Don Roberts
Mayor, Edgerton, Kansas

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Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3

Officials in the small town of Edgerton will be faced with the ongoing challenges of accommodating the growing number of workers at Northpoint Development's Logistics Park Kansas City. New tenants are expected at the logistics park that already holds millions of square feet of warehousing for Amazon, and Jet.com, Walmart’s online distributor. While commercial development has started with truck stops, restaurants and hotels, the city is facing a housing shortage, and struggling to attract developers who will bring the needed infrastructure and utilities.

KEY DATES

Jan. 16: The Kansas City Council is set to vote on an ordinance that would lower its tax incentive levels to match cities and counties in Kansas. This would prevent deals like the one with Burns & McDonnell, in which companies get major tax breaks to move a relatively short distance, shuffling workers across the state line without actually creating new jobs.

April 2: The scheduled opening date of the 800-room Loews convention hotel in downtown Kansas City. Proponents said the lack of a convention hotel caused the city to miss out on millions in revenue from major conventions and conferences.

Mid-year: The first phase of Avenue 81 at 82nd and Metcalf is expected to open in Overland Park. The project will be a senior independent and assisted living project, adjacent to Avenue 80, new market-rate apartments just one block north.

October: The scheduled opening of the Wonderscope Children’s Museum in South Kansas City. The addition of the museum, which is relocating from Shawnee, is one of several projects underway in the area.

Editor's Note: The date for the council vote on lowering tax incentives to match those in Kansas cities and counties was changed after council member held the ordinance for another week. The vote is now expected on Jan. 16.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @larodrig. Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org.

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