Kansas City-based startup Life Equals is leading a charge to revitalize the West Bottoms with new office users.
Sitting just west of downtown, the historic West Bottoms district is one of Kansas City’s oldest neighborhoods. In its heyday, it was home to an array of residents, schools, and churches, until a pair of floods in 1903 and 1951 decimated the area, leaving behind a ghost town of empty buildings and warehouses.
But since the late 1990s, area businesses and residents have banded together to reinvigorate the area with new life. Today, the district is home to a number of restaurants, retail shops, multifamily housing, and a slew of flea market antiques that bring visitors from across the country.
In February, Kansas City-based startup Life Equals moved its offices from Westport to the industrial chic West Bottoms district, in hopes of inciting a wave of new office development in the area. We sat down with the company’s CEO Kyle FitzGerald and COO Chris Thowe to discuss their plans for the space and their hopes for the neighborhood.
On February 1, the Life Equals team moved into a spacious new 3,800-square-foot office at the corner of 11th and Liberty. The solar-powered building features 14.5-foot ceilings, beautiful wooden floors, and exposed brick walls. But the office isn’t just a workspace; It’s a statement.
“It’s got brand appeal,” FitzGerald said. “As a consumer brand, we’re very conscious of its image, whether it’s online, product packaging, or how we communicate with our customer. To be able to bring that to life in a space where our team works everyday is important.”
The new office houses five full-time employees, but the team employs an additional 20 part-time workers to help with events and production. The space serves as the team’s office, but it also doubles as fulfillment space, where the team processes hundreds of orders a day.
The new office environment is a night-and-day change from Life Equals’ previous 900-square-foot home on Westport Road. And in a time when most companies are reducing their square footage per employee, it’s a spacious environment for the team. But the wide-open floor plan will also allow the company to host a number of events -- including yoga classes, pop-up shops, and cooking demos -- to bring the community inside its doors.
“To have a community space will be great, because it speaks to our brand and allows us to position ourselves as thought leaders in health and wellness,” FitzGerald said.
WHY WEST BOTTOMS?
To FitzGerald and Thowe, the West Bottoms is where it all started. The duo had previously worked for separate companies -- located within the Livestock Exchange building -- when they hatched the idea for Life Equals.
“It feels good to be back in the area and see the transcendence it’s been through in a few short years,” Thowe said. “It feels like home.”
It’s come a long way since then.
“Back then, it was all storage and some amusement houses, so it’s cool to see it gentrify from a couple of bucks per square foot to now around $12 per square foot,” FitzGerald said. “Now, we could be the first edge of that office gentrification, where we’ll usher in real market rates.”
But while West Bottoms’ rates are still significantly below those of the Crossroads Arts District, FitzGerald says the building stock is much more ideal for office space, with more continuous square footage but plenty of character.
“I hope to see that wave come here, and that people take advantage of the millions of square feet down here that’s currently unused,” he said.
ROOM TO GROW
The new office provides plenty of room for Life Equals to grow. In fact, the company is currently launching a test of its superfood shot in West Los Angeles, which if successful, will allow the team to add five new employees this summer.
But the company’s founders remain committed to Kansas City. It’s a piece of advice the team gleaned from local marketing and advertising guru Bob Bernstein, who told them that in order to build a national brand, the first key is to own your hometown.
On that note, FitzGerald says, he and his team are passionate about Kansas City resurgence, especially the urban core.
“I live on Troost, so I’m really into seeing Kansas City’s untapped value being re-imagined in a fun, new way,” he said. “We want to be those leaders that are leading small businesses back down to the West Bottoms. We want people to know that you don't have to be an industrial user or a flea market to be down here. It’s a great place with a wonderful community, plus it’s very affordable.”
FitzGerald says he hopes the West Bottoms will continue to build momentum, and is hopeful that infrastructure improvements will help push the district forward. He’s hopeful that an upcoming streetscape improvement project on Hickory Street will not only restore its former glory by bringing back cobblestones, but that sewer improvements will address flooding issues. He’d also like to see more pedestrian-friendly streets, with better lighting, sidewalk and curb enhancements, delineated parking, and trash cans.
In the meantime, the Life Equals team is settling into the neighborhood and getting to know the neighbors.
“We’re trying to make this a community-oriented space, but it’s amazing the community that’s already established here in the West Bottoms,” Community Manager Alex Dapp said. “We’ve been here for a week and it feels like we already know a good portion of the vendors. Everyone is friendly, and wants everyone else to be successful.”
Interested in checking out the West Bottoms? Check out VisitKC’s guide to learn about the neighborhood’s eclectic mix of vintage shops, restaurants, and coffee joints.