A full 34 years after then-Councilmember Emanuel Cleaver introduced The Cleaver Plan – the proposed creation of a cultural district on 18th & Vine – and a full 27 years after construction began on the project, Historic Kansas City’s Jazz District appears to be taking off.
Construction is underway on a number of new projects and plans have been approved for others. More than just a strip along 18th Street, 18th & Vine is poised to become a flourishing district, with multiple projects along the Vine Street South Corridor that extends from 19th Street, east of The Paseo, to Troost Lake Drive.
When efforts to revitalize the historic district lagged, consultants made it clear, it would take more than a few museums to turn the district into a destination spot. When revitalized retail spaces stood empty, consultants also made it clear the district needed more residents – population density.
“Retail follows residential,” said Tony Salazar, a partner with McCormick Baron Salazar in a November 2013 article in The Kansas City Star. In partnership with the Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation, McCormick Baron Salazar built 171 government-subsidized housing units within the six-block district. Most of them had first-floor commercial with apartments above.
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While the apartments were full, the retail remained virtually empty. The early residential model for the community was predominantly built around senior and affordable housing. Across the country, neighborhoods with low-income residents struggle for retail options.
The South Vine Corridor
The new model for growth in the area includes a mix of affordable (also referred to as attainable or workforce housing) and market-rate housing. By having more customers with disposable income, developers are banking on the first-floor commercial model to accommodate the retail, service and restaurants that residents will want.
The goal is to create a modern, vibrant and sustainable community where people live, work and play for generations to come, not just within the formal borders of the Historic 18th & Vine District, with its formal borders along 18th and 19th streets between Paseo and Woodland, and in the area defined as the South Vine Corridor.
With plenty of open land, plans are being made to expand the district south as far as Troost Lake. The Vine Street Brewery and The Spot restaurant, which opened in the renovated City Water Department building in the 2000 block of Vine, are just the beginning.
One Nine Vine
Besides the 2000 Vine buildings, the One Nine Vine Apartments, at 1901 Vine St., are nearing completion, with a projected “official” opening later this month. The five-story, 80-unit apartment building will feature predominantly market-rate apartments and plenty of off-street parking.
The One Nine Vine Apartments are Phase 1 of a three-phase development project that will add more rental units, retail, and entertainment venues over the next four years.
Phase 2, The Jazzy on Vine Street development, will be located at 1900 Vine St. Plans and proposals call for a transportation hub, office space, market-rate rental units, additional parking spaces, street-level retail and a 30,000 sq. ft. supermarket.
Phase 3 of the project is an L-shaped facility that will run along Vine from 19th to 18th streets and then west along 18th Street to just east of The Paseo. The project will build on the historic retail facades in the area, and feature first-floor commercial with income-based rental units above.
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Getting Here Hasn’t Been Easy
The local development team, 1900 Vine LLC, includes former Kansas City councilman and state economic development director Kelvin Simmons.
These days, Simmons wears many hats. He can be spotted on 18th Street or on Vine Street greeting visitors, taking meetings, and talking about how the area is taking off. He is also chairman of the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District and the Vine Street Community Improvement District (CID).
It hasn’t been an easy process to get to this point, he concedes. “When I hear residents complain that nothing is getting done in the Jazz District, I have to disagree,” Simmons says. “There is a lot being done. It takes time, patience, perseverance and money. It is a very complex web to navigate, but worth it.”
Fellow developer Tim Duggan agrees. Duggan and his development partners, Shomari Benton and Jason Parson, envisioned a mixed-use space when they purchased the former Water and Street Department buildings from the City of Kansas City in 2018.
“The 2000 Vine project that houses The Vine Street Brewery and other businesses took years to get done,” Duggan continues. “We refused to give up despite funding obstacles and never-ending bureaucracy.”
More to Come
Property (and business) owners Vewiser Dixon and Pat Jordan know the obstacles well. Both have worked for many years on their respective projects. Jordan led the campaign to renovate The Gem Theater back in the 1990s.
Dixon is one of the largest property owners in the South Vine Corridor. He owns much of the land compiled by Bank of America in early 2000s for a project they called “The Vine Street District” that promised to “change the face of downtown housing in Kansas City.” Plans called for spending $46 million to redevelop 96 acres from The Paseo to Brooklyn Avenue, and 19th to 25th streets.
By 2005, in the face of an economic downturn, Bank of America had abandoned the plan, but not before constructing some single-family homes in a subdivision called Monarch Manor. Those single-family homes are located east of LincolnCollege Preparatory Academy, between 20th and 23rd streets, and west of Brooklyn Ave.
Dixon’s land includes the historic workhouse castle across from the recently renovated 2000 Vine facility. A sign in front of the castle that’s showing its age, promotes the coming Jazzonian, a cultural arts center and boutique hotel. Dixon has also talked about his plan to develop a Silicon Valley-like hub near Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, for minority-owned tech startup companies; most of his plans include plenty of housing too.
Dixon has endured naysayers and a web of bureaucracy that would cause many to just walk away, but he says he remains committed to developing the land and hopes to have something firm to announce soon.
“I grew up in nearby Beacon Hill,” Dixon said. “I care deeply about this neighborhood and want to see positive change. In spite of the challenges, that’s why I want to see it through.”
Like Dixon, Jordan sees a lot of potential for the Vine Street South Corridor. Jordan’s base for her many projects is the historic fire station on the northeast corner of 20th and Vine. The restored fire station provides coworking space for entrepreneurs and a “safe space” for creatives.
She is currently exploring development ideas near her office. Jordan agrees that the housing need is a pressing issue. “We need attainable and market-rate housing,” she said. “More than anything, the focus should be about the people, as well as the spaces.”
Crescendo Townhomes and former Wendell Phillips School Developments
A few blocks down Vine, on 24th Street, the Urban Neighborhood Initiative (UNI) is planning a hub and community incubator in the former Wendell Phillips Elementary School building they acquired earlier this year from the Kansas City Public Schools Board. The program will focus on youth and young-adult programming and job-readiness services.
The UNI has also purchased land surrounding the former school building to construct single-family, attainable housing. A sign at the southeast corner of Highland Avenue announces their project: Crescendo Townhomes are coming soon.
John James, president of the Wendell Phillips Neighborhood Association, welcomes the many developments for the neighborhood. “I am excited about the new housing and mixed-use projects coming online,” he says. “We are on a path to creating a thriving community.”
Current and future projects represent more than $300 million of investment, the majority of which is financed by private money.