30-year development project in KC on final phase

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — A redevelopment plan that began in 1980 is within one year of wrapping up a successful effort to revitalize a rundown neighborhood just south of the Crown Center development in midtown Kansas City.
The Union Hill development plan was first approved in 1980 and work has just begun on the final phase, a 181-apartment project called The Founders at Union Hill. The five buildings are expected to be completed next year, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/12hP7Zc). When that work is done, the redevelopment plan will have spurred more than $200 million in investment in a 16-block area.
“I’m excited about it,” developer Bob Frye said. “We’re finishing what we started.”
When the project began, the neighborhood’s late-19th-century housing was in bad shape and Crown Center officials were concerned the blight would hurt its then-new office, hotel and retail investment.
“It was important for us to protect our southern flank and correct a really blighted neighborhood,” said Bill Lucas, president of Crown Center Redevelopment.
When the Kansas City Council approved the plan, it granted 25-year property tax abatement and the power to condemn properties. But it took three years before its first developer, Jim Young of Union Hill Redevelopment, could begin construction. Relocated residents complained they were poorly compensated and then Young had to leave the project in 1987 after encountering financial problems.
Phoenix Redevelopment, a new development group led by Frye, took over in 1988. Through the years, Crown Center has continued to acquire properties and ensure the quality of the development.
“It’s proven to be a mutually beneficial relationship,” Lucas said. “The development has been very good and accomplished much of what we wanted to achieve, spreading development to the south and cleaning up a rough neighborhood.”
John Laney, a former city planning director who later became a Hall Family Foundation vice president, said Hallmark and Crown Center needed to make sure the work was done right.
“It was terribly important to Hallmark that residential development take place there,” he said. “It was part of the original Crown Center development, but Hallmark was not in a position to do it.”
In the last three decades, the project has added two hotels and a retail project. Frye estimated Union Hill alone has added 1,000 new and renovated residences to the area. And recently, the developer of nearby Gillham Row announced he’s moving forward with a 22-unit apartment building.
“If you add up the housing growth, that’s 2,000 to 3,000 units in a 1-mile circle,” Frye said. “There’s probably not another 1-mile circle in the metropolitan area that’s had that much housing growth over the past five years.”
And more may be in store. Lucas said Crown Center still has ample land slated for future residential development.