Jon Copaken: The People are Thirsty

Jon Copaken

Jon Copaken

Jon Copaken is one of downtown Kansas City’s biggest champions. At a recent meeting with the KC Downtowners, he shared the various projects his firm has underway, and what Kansas City leaders and residents can do to keep the momentum going. The people are thirsty for new types of environments, he said, divulging some of the hottest trends in real estate and development.

Today’s companies are looking for big, open floor plates with plenty of collaborative space. They’re also amenity heavy – whether it’s pool tables, games, rooftop activities, restaurants, or common hangout/meeting areas. There’s also a focus on dense, urban environments.

Corrigan Station is a 150,000-square-foot multi-tenant office development at 19th & Main.

Corrigan Station is a 150,000-square-foot multi-tenant office development at 19th & Main.

Probably the best illustration of these trends is a new development Copaken is working on with 3D Development called Corrigan Station. The 110,000-square-foot historic building at the corner of 19th and Main will be delivered in December 2016. The project also entails a 40,000-square-foot addition that will be constructed, as well as a new 277-car garage.

“This is the first multitenant downtown office building built since 1201 Walnut building was built in 1991,” Copaken said. “That says a lot about demand and how hard projects are to get going. It also says a lot about public investment and private investment. It’s a nice project but it’s sad that except for build-to-suits for specific companies, we haven’t seen this type of development on the office side in a long time.”

The lobby of Corrigan Station includes design elements that nod to the building’s past when it housed the world’s largest dress manufacturer, Nelly Don.

The lobby of Corrigan Station includes design elements that nod to the building’s past when it housed the world’s largest dress manufacturer, Nelly Don.

It’s a signature building with incredible windows and exposed concrete floors and ceilings. Once home to the Nelly Don dress manufacturing company, the developers plan to retain some of the character by incorporating a loom wall art area with wood slats reminiscent of the looms that once filled each floor.

The most striking visual of the project is the rooftop, where tenants will be able to use the space for special events and gathering space. Another unique feature is an existing rooftop penthouse that will be converted into a glass-walled conference room with 360-degree views of the city.

Corrigan Station will have incredible rooftop amenities including a penthouse conference room.

Corrigan Station will have incredible rooftop amenities including a penthouse conference room.

But Copaken worries that projects like these will not be made possible without the support of Kansas Citians who are willing to make the public investment required to make these projects feasible.

“I prefer to use the term ‘investment’ rather than incentives, because that’s what private people are doing when public are being asked to participate,” he said. “The discourse shouldn’t be on what your tax bill says, bur rather the vision for the city and what we want it to be. The you build your public and private investment around that vision.”

It’s the not-so-sexy focus areas like streets, curbs, gutters and sidewalks that attract the private sector to invest.

“The idea is that you invest in areas where there are demands, where there are gaps or public infrastructure that’s necessary,” he said. “That will provide a better economic development return for the public.”

The Jenkins Music Company building is a redevelopment opportunity Copaken Brooks has under its belt. It’s an 18-foot deep building at 12th and Walnut that serves as a facade for a city parking garage. Copaken Brooks is looking into potentially converting the building into a multifamily project.

The Jenkins Music Company building is a redevelopment opportunity Copaken Brooks has under its belt. It’s an 18-foot deep building at 12th and Walnut that serves as a facade for a city parking garage. Copaken Brooks is looking into potentially converting the building into a multifamily project.

The process developers go through to get their projects approved works as a mechanism to protect the public, Copaken said.

“The process is so slow and methodical, deliberate, excruciatingly painful, expensive, and verified by third parties,” he said. “Going through that process and spending a year worth of scrutiny and going through all the boards is a very well protected process for the public. Everyone can disagree with the conclusion but people should know that the process we have set up today really protects the public in a tremendous way. If developers didn’t have to do it, no one ever would. It’s too painful.”

Copaken is also focused on other ways to keep downtown momentum going, including pushing local corporations to bring a slice of their workforce to the downtown area. He also believes progress can be sustained as the ‘urban mentality’ continues to evolve in Kansas City. As people’s attitudes change and evolve, and the next generation moves into leadership positions, they should continue to focus on the vision for downtown.

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