Kansas City's Iconic Power & Light Building Reborn As Downtown Luxury Apartments | KCUR

Kansas City's Iconic Power & Light Building Reborn As Downtown Luxury Apartments

Jul 18, 2016

The historic Power & Light Building, a beloved Kansas City landmark, is embarking on a new life as one of the city’s swankiest apartment addresses.

With a grand opening set for Tuesday, the Power & Light Apartments redevelopment joins an increasingly competitive downtown market.  

The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year, features  291 apartments and a 500-space garage along Baltimore between 13th and 14th streets. Seventy units in the upper floors of the limestone-clad tower already have been finished and residents began moving in a couple months ago. 

A stylized rendering of the historic Power & Light tower hangs in the fitness center of the Power & Light Apartments.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

The 36-story skyscraper is one of the nation’s Art Deco treasures, according to the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. For generations of Kansas Citians, the changing color of its brilliant crown was a familiar tradition.

The building however, had been mostly empty since its namesake tenant, Kansas City Power & Light, moved out in 1991.

“When I saw the building at first, I fell in love with it,” says Nathaniel Hagedorn, CEO of Northpoint Development. “Being part of restoring this building has been a great experience. It’s one of the toughest projects I’ve done, but so rewarding.”

On a recent tour, Hagedorn noted that it took 14 months and $1.9 million to build the original tower in 1931. Its redevelopment cost $70 million and required 18 months.

Apartment boom

The downtown apartment market is sizzling and multiple projects are underway that are expected to add another 2,500 units in the next couple years.

While veteran observers are optimistic the demand will continue for new projects like Power & Light Apartments, they confess to a little queasiness.

“I’m getting a little nervous and I’m not a nervous person,” says Christina Boveri of Boveri Realty.

She has been involved in the downtown residential market for 13 years and finds homes there for about 40 households on average a month.

“Right now, the demand is good and the occupancy strong, but you have a lot of product coming on and they’re not small projects,” Boveri says.

In addition to Power & Light, projects include:

  • 600 units being built by Cityscape in Quality Hill and the Crossroads;
  • The 260-unit renovation of the Pickwick complex on McGee Street;
  • 425 units being built by Milhaus near Crown Center;
  • 276 units in the Second and Delaware project in the River Market; and
  • A 300-unit renovation of Commerce Tower.

Tom Smith, the developer of the historic Pickwick, says he is confident the market will be there. The $65 million project scheduled for completion this winter is geared toward millennials, with rents ranging from $750 to $2,000.

“The consensus is, if you build it, they’ll come, and we’re going along with that,” he says.

The swanky Beacon Lounge on the 31st floor of the Art Deco tower.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Strength in luxury?

Hagedorn believes the level of luxury at the Power & Light Apartment development will guarantee a strong market.

Besides renovating the old office tower into 210 apartments, there are 81 new units wrapped around the garage. A fourth floor sky bridge connects the garage with the historic building.

“This will be the premier address for someone wanting to live in downtown,” says Hagedorn.

The units themselves feature wood floors, high-end appliances and large windows with sweeping views of downtown and its surroundings.

Monthly rents will start at $995 for a studio to $3,600 for a 1,500-square-foot apartment on the 29th floor that includes two outdoor terraces.

Some units have outdoor terraces, but the most dramatic outdoor space is reserved for the Beacon Lounge on the 31st floor. The community amenity originally was used as a mechanical room, and the designers have converted it into luxurious eagle’s nest with chevron-pattern marble floor, a fireplace, couches and bar.

It’s surrounded by a wide outdoor terrace that offers views as far away as the Kansas Speedway to the west and the Truman Sports Complex to the east.

Workers put finishing touches on the ceiling of Power & Light's two-floor former lobby.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3

Lights and drama

The 479-foot skyscraper was Missouri’s tallest building for 40 years and one early account said its crowning beacon could be seen by aircraft 75 miles away.

The new project will used LED lights to illuminate the tower. The old copper spotlights have been polished and hung above the Beacon Lounge bar.

The most dramatic space is the two-level former lobby of the building, an Art Deco treasure chest of nickel-plated light fixtures, decorated terra cotta walls and terrazzo floor.

It has been repurposed as an event space called the Grand Hall at Power & Light that can accommodate up to 500 people. A 400-guest wedding already has been booked for October.

Completing the amenity package is a basement level with a fitness center, whirlpool, massage rooms, lounge, wine storage units and a kitchen where residents can have prepared meals dropped off.

As part of the tax incentive deal that helped spur the redevelopment, the hotel will have access to 100 spaces in the new garage. The apartment project received a 25-year property tax abatement and $8 million in tax increment financing.

Hagedorn says he’s fielded many calls from Kansas City residents pleased the old building is being restored.

One 85-year-old woman from Independence called him and sang an old radio jingle describing how the tower light colors changed to forecast the weather.

“It seems like everyone has a story,” he says. “We’ve breathed another 50 years of life into this building. We wanted to make no compromises.”

Kevin Collison is a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @kckansascity.