If you’re looking for a Black business in Kansas City, MO, for the diversity, uniqueness and shear number, there’s no better place to go than the six-story Location 1 building located on East 63rd Street and Citadel.
The high-rise is the home-base for lawyers, doctors, nail techs, barbers, therapists, clothing boutiques and so much more. Just ask anyone around about a service or product, and they’ll point you to one of the 150-plus Black-owned businesses in the Location 1 building.
“This building is a community resource,” said Sheri Hall, interim CEO of Poetry for Personal Power, that has had an office in the Location One building since June.
“A lot of businesses have stayed in this area because it’s where they’re able to serve the community,” said Hall. “This building is right off the bus line and it’s easily accessible to people who have low to moderate income.”
This haven of economic opportunity for Kansas City’s Black community will soon come to an end. The building has been purchased and the new owner, Clarity Development Co., has plans to turn the location into a six-floor multi-family building with 181 affordable apartments. Although the development may hurt Black businesses, with the apartments designed for individuals making up to 60% of Kansas City’s median income, the new development will help address the city’s lack of affordable housing.
Clarity proposes construction of the mostly one-bedroom apartments to begin this fall or early 2022 with competition expected in 18 months. The project will cost between $30 million and $35 million.
Many of the business owners, some of whom have been in the building more than 20 years, said neither the property manager nor the new owners gave them notice that they’d have to relocate this year. Most of them found out last week from Facebook chatter and a Kansas City Business Journal article from earlier this month.
“These people have come into our space and have not had any conversations or given any consideration to the people here,” said Hall. “To be quite frank, this is improvement with displacement – other-wise known as gentrification. Why is this being allowed?”
Whitney Ward, who has owned hair salon Luxury Luxe in the building for almost three years, said she thinks the project is a move to push the red line further east.
The Brookside East project, being developed by Butch Rigby, is already pushing the barrier between Kansas City’s historic racial dividing line of Troost Avenue. Rigby’s project is extending the historic White Brookside area east along 63rd Street and 62nd Terrace, with renovated apartments, restaurants and retail establishments.
“This is not Brookside, this is the Citadel and this is an urban community,” Ward said. “What’s the transition and where are you planning on these businesses going? Where can 200 businesses go in Kansas City?”
Neeraj Agarwal, a Clarity Development principal, told KCUR Radio that they have waited to contact tenants until a firm plan is in place, which he expects will happen after a City Plan Commission hearing where Clarity will request approval of their rezoning request.
The City Plan Commission will vote to either recommend or deny the projects needed change from commercial to a zoning that allows residential housing. Their recommendation will then be sent to the KCMO City Council for either for their approval.
The Location 1 property is in the Swope Park Opportunity Zone, which means Clarity would receive a tax incentive for their investment in the property.
The new developer’s silence has led to considerable confusion among tenants, who have no idea when they they’ll need to be out and where they’ll go.
Agarwal said Clarity plans to help the businesses relocate, but the tenants are not hopeful about the availability of affordable space in Kansas City to house more than 150 businesses.
Dr. Herman Watson, a surgeon who has worked out of the building for more than 25 years, said a lot of his patients catch the bus to get to his office.
“I can’t afford to have an office in Kansas City, but I do share an office in Kansas, so I’ll just go over there and the people in Missouri will have to find a way to go over there. I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Watson said.
Many of the tenants said they would rather have seen the building completely renovated and the businesses allowed to remain.
“We, as a community, were not respected in this; we were not asked what we want here. We were not considered in the decision-making processes,” said Hall.
The tenants in the building formed a tenants’ association and will create a plan for next steps. That meeting will take place in the Location 1 building April 26 at 1:30 p.m.
“For the bulk majority of the businesses here, this is our livelihood,” Hall said. “Many of the people here serve the community in various ways. I am tired of us, as a people, building and trying to preserve for it all to be taken away.”
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community