North Kansas City has always been known as an industrial suburb. But as the large companies flock to new industrial sweet spots like Edgerton or Riverside, North Kansas City is creating unique opportunities out of its older industrial buildings.
Last week, CREW Kansas City hosted a panel of area leaders who are facilitating the city’s transformation. Here’s a look at why they’re choosing to locate businesses in Kansas City, what they’re doing to attract more business to the area, and what the future of the Northland suburb could look like.
THEN VS. NOW
North Kansas City was built as a haven for manufacturing and warehousing, but it’s undergoing a shift in its identity. The starting point of this transformation was arguably the influx of microbreweries in the area. In 2012, Cinderblock Brewery founder Bryce Schaffter began shopping for real estate that would cater to his specific needs to launch his microbrewing business.
“Breweries are a hybrid between a manufacturer and a pub or bar,” he said.
Breweries are a hybrid between a manufacturer and a pub or bar, which translates to special needs from a real estate perspective. He needed intensive utilities, including 8-inch thick concrete with reinforced bars, upgraded plumbing, electrical, gas lines, and sprinkler system. He shopped throughout the downtown area for a space that would fit his needs, but the price and product couldn’t compare to what he found north of the river.
Whereas Kansas City, Missouri draws its water from the river and treats it with harsh chemicals to sanitize it, North Kansas City has deep wells and its own water treatment facility. Better water equals better beer, Schaffter says. Secondly, while real estate in downtown averages about $20 per square foot, he can sign a similar lease just a few blocks north for about $12 per square foot. And lastly, since most of the buildings in North Kansas City were always geared for industrial users, they already came equipped with all the major utility lines he was looking for. It also didn’t hurt that the city’s ordinances are written with very general use categories, so it doesn’t meddle much in exactly what type of retail space is permitted where.
“There’s been a huge changing of the landscape with small businesses and entrepreneurs taking older buildings and converting them into something that becomes quaint, inviting, and comfortable,” Schaffter said.
Since locating in North Kansas City, other microbreweries and distilleries have taken note and taken up residency there as well. Now, the city is home to Big Rip Brewing Co. and even a microbrewing equipment store called Grain to Glass.
John Miller Jr.’s family-owned business owns eight properties totaling nearly 1 million square feet in North Kansas City, where he’s spent the majority of his days for 25 years. He’d watch the city come alive with workers during the day, but watched the tumbleweeds blow down the streets after 5 p.m. But things are looking different these days. Now, he’s finding new and creative uses for the industrial warehouses across the area. Today, his buildings house tenants like ROKC, a new rock climbing gym that has the largest climbing walls in the Midwest, as well as the world’s largest crossfit training facility in the US. Other concepts in the area include iWorks, a new entrepreneurial development center opening in June, as well as an arts workshop space.
“What I love about the city is that you never know what’s inside these older buildings until you wander around,” Miller said. “Over the past three years, with some of these microbreweries and other new businesses open, we’re creating a destination. I’m seeing more and more Johnson County license plates, and watching people walk Armour in the heart of the city until 8 or 9 p.m.”
“North Kansas City will be a fun place to watch over the next 20 years,” Miller said.
We’ve got a city now that wants to help businesses grow.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Today, Shafter is expanding Cinderblock by rehabbing a neighboring 50-year-old paint booth. The brewery now is canning beer, expanding its line to include cider, and planning collaborations with other Northland breweries and coffee roasters.
One of the major goals of the City of North Kansas City is to double its population. Today, it has a daytime population of 24,000 but only about 4,300 people sleeping in the area at night. By doubling its downtown population, the city knows it can better support downtown retail and attract new business.
For the past 15 years, the City has been working on the Northgate Village redevelopment, which entailed the acquisition and demolition of a quarter of the city’s existing residential dwelling units through eminent domain, and the subsequent redevelopment of the area. There, new single-family homes will be complete this year. Other apartments under construction include the second phase of City View Apartments and the fourth phase of The Gardens at Northgate Village. The city is also looking to identify other areas for potential multifamily development, according to Sarah Copeland, community development director at the City of North Kansas City.
Copeland says the city is also hoping to attract the younger professional by hosting special events like the “Swift Mile.” It’s also working on a plan to improve the Burlington corridor by improving sidewalks, upgrading lighting, and adding public art and bike lanes. See updates from that project here. http://nkc.org/CD The city also is planning a groundbreaking in the next 15 months for a 52,000 square foot Mierotto Jewelers store.
“If this was Overland Park, our projects in the pipeline or under construction would be a drop in the bucket,” Copeland said. “But for us, this is a lot of development and we’re really excited about what’s happening now and what’s coming.”
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