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West Bottoms businesses worry they'll be 'snuffed out' by massive redevelopment plans

A faded sign on the five-story brick building advertises Holsum Food Products 'Add the touch of genius to your meals.' This used to be a bustling food processing warehouse. And now, its desolate surroundings notwithstanding, artists are giving the building new life and purpose.
Julie Denesha
Nick Allen, co-owner of Bella Patina, said he's concerned he'll be priced out of the neighborhood if West Bottoms becomes the next Crossroads Arts District.

An out-of-state developer’s plan to redevelop over 20 acres in the West Bottoms has some saying the area is about to become the next Crossroads Arts District. But the historic neighborhood’s small business community have raised concerns that the rapid change will price them out of the area.

The West Bottoms is on the brink of massive change.

Over the next decade, New York-based developer SomeraRoad has plans to spend $400 million to redevelop over 20 acres in the historic Kansas City neighborhood. The company said it wants to build 1,200 apartments, offices, restaurants and a hotel in the roughly six-block area north of 12th Street between Hickory and Santa Fe.

The city approved pre-development plans late last year, and last week signed off on plans to demolish the abandoned Weld Wheelbuilding, which could begin as early as this summer.

Keven Collison, founder and editor-in-chief of CityScene KC, told Up To Date it’s still uncertain how much of the company’s plans will come to fruition. However, he thinks the demolition of the Weld Wheel building means SomeraRoad is serious about the investment.

“Over the years there's a lot of folks who have big plans, and sometimes they don't play out the way they originally envisioned. But SomeraRoad is not just some outfit that has no track record of success,” he said.

The developer is behind the $20 million renovation of the Lightwell in downtown Kansas City, formally known as City Center Square. It also owns offices in River Market.

Collison said SomeraRoad will likely seek property tax abatements and other types of incentives, and the city has already agreed to pay $2 million toward the Weld Wheel demolition.

A map of the multi-phase redevelopment proposal in the roughly six-block area north of 12th Street between Hickory and Santa Fe.
A map of the multi-phase redevelopment proposal in the roughly six-block area north of 12th Street between Hickory and Santa Fe.

The West Bottoms Historic Association endorsed SomeraRoad’s plan because the company said it will remove blight, restore several historic buildings and offer affordable housing in its new apartments. The developer has also been communicative with area residents, according to the Association’s president, Tom Esselman.

“For the past year, they've had multiple open forums, community meetings and listening sessions. They have a full time representative who has an office space that they've rented right in the middle of the district that they're talking about renovating, so they're trying to connect,” Esselman said.

However, some community members in the West Bottoms have voiced concerns over how fast development is occurring.

For Nick Allen, co-owner of antique mall Bella Patina, there’s a sense the development will fundamentally change the essence of the West Bottoms. That, and he’ll be priced out of the neighborhood.

“When you have a developer like SomeraRoad come in and spend half a billion dollars, it becomes very easy for the uniqueness of the West Bottoms to be snuffed out,” Allen said.

Bella Patina has been in the neighborhood for over a decade. Allen said he doesn't know what the future holds for his business, but one thing's for certain: the West Bottoms is changing.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Claudia Brancart is an Up To Date producer for KCUR 89.3. She graduated from Pitzer College in Los Angeles where she majored in World Literature and Studio Art. You can reach her at claudiab@kcur.org.
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