Last week, Kansas City Council approved a development plan that would transform blighted buildings on 18th and Vine into a residential and retail space.

The $23 million proposal submitted by McCormack Baron Salazar and Taliaferro and Browne will take place on the west side of Vine Street between 18th and 19th Streets. The developers are required to preserve the historic facades along the street as part of the project, including the Eblon Theater and Roberts Building.

The 18th and Vine Street development area.

The city sold the property to the developers for $1.

The redevelopment site will include a 33,000 square-foot of first-floor retail behind the old building facade, and below two levels of residential space with 54 apartments. There will also be 28 new parking spaces.

Developers say they are trying to stay true to the cultural and historical heritage of the Jazz District community through the project.

As part of the agreement, the developer must begin construction within three years and provide updates on progress every six months.

In 2020, the city issued a request for proposals for residential and commercial construction on 18th and Vine. The 18th and Vine LLC proposed the project and just a few months later, the 18th and Vine Development Policy Committee recommended their project. The next month, city council accepted the recommendation and the city manager began negotiating an agreement.

There is an $8 million gap in the project’s funding and it’s not clear how that gap will be filled, however, the city manager said the city will assist where needed with financing.

CONCERNS FROM COUNCILMEMBERS

City council passed the plan 11-1, with 3rd District Councilman Brandon Ellington providing the only vote against the plan.

Before the vote, Ellington said he had concerns with the lack of Black representation on the development team, which is nearly all White.

He also cited that the development team, McCormack Baron Salazar, have been sued in the past for health and safety violations in their properties. He noted the lawsuit filed in 2018 against St. Louis Housing Authority and property manager McCormack Baron Salazar revealing infestations of mice, cockroaches and mold at the Clinton Peabody public housing building.

“I can’t vote yes because I have too many concerns,” Ellington said before voting against the plan.

Previously, both Ellington and 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson opposed the plan and had co-sponsored an ordinance that would reject all current redevelopment projects on 18th and Vine and create a new rebidding process that would ensure there are protections to prevent displacement of businesses and residents.

They both were worried possible higher and retail rental rates would push out residents and business owners in what is currently a predominantly Black district.

“We will not be another Beale Street,” Robinson said in a statement. “It is critical that the city attract private investment that revitalizes the Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District while also ensuring that the people who own, live, work and patronize the district are not displaced through gentrification.”

The council tabled the councilmember’s rebidding ordinance. While Robinson was still critical of the plan, she voted in favor of it after developers reassured her they would not be able to push out properties outside the redevelopment site.

A provision was also added last week that directs the city to develop and fund a program to support small businesses in the district by providing funding to support start-up costs to help address barriers to entry for entrepreneurs.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Henry Service, owner of the Historic Lincoln Building, told the council that this development plan is long overdue for the Jazz District. Most of the property in the Jazz District is owned by the city and blighted.

dilapidated building

“Dangerous buildings have been choking the life out of the Jazz District for decades, while other areas of the city are getting soccer stadiums and multi-million-dollar investments,” he said.

As a business owner in the district, Service said, he sees the disappointment in tourists’ faces when they see the dilapidated, blighted buildings in a city that is known for jazz.

“Right now, it’s an embarrassment. It’s not only just an embarrassment to the people who are struggling to do businesses down there, where it’s choking the life out of those businesses, but it’s an embarrassment to Kansas City to have a jazz district looking like that,” he said.

Service also questioned why the city is spending time developing other areas of the city including Power and Light and River Market, yet not the Jazz District.

“It looks like it’s on purpose,” Service said. “It looks discriminatory.”

Other businesses on 18th and Vine support the development, including the National Historic Soul Jazz Blues Walker Foundation, The Kansas City Call, Smaxx & Velvet Freeze, and the Zodiacs Motorcycle Club.

Developers say it will take eight to nine months for construction to begin.

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