Spencer Fane renews its lease in Downtown

Spencer Fane, a blue-chip prospect in a hungry local office market, has decided to stay put in a Downtown building where it was an original tenant in 1985, according to The Kansas City Star

The Commerce Bank Building at 10th & Main in Downtown Kansas City.

The Commerce Bank Building at 10th & Main in Downtown Kansas City.

The firm has signed a 12-year extension of its lease at the Commerce Bank Building at 1000 Walnut St. and will expand its office space from 55,000 to 63,000 square feet. The firm will occupy all of the 12th, 13th and 14th floors.

In signing on for a dozen more years, the 130-employee office of the Kansas City-based firm passed on offers from Crown Center to the Country Club Plaza and pitches to be the anchor tenant in proposed new buildings as well.

“We’re thrilled,” said Thomas “Buzz” Willard, president of Tower Properties, the building landlord. “They did a market search and had lots of good options.”

Patrick J. Whalen, managing partner for Spencer Fane, said discussions with the firm’s employees indicated remaining downtown was their overwhelming preference. The firm employs 55 attorneys in Kansas City and a support staff of 75 people.

“I told my colleagues it was my job to look at every option, and I visited 10 or 12 different properties,” Whalen said. “We’re thrilled to renew our commitment to downtown at the same time a new chapter is beginning at Spencer Fane.”

The firm is planning a multimillion-dollar renovation of its space, which has changed little since it moved into the then-new Commerce Bank Building in 1985. The cost of the lease extension and renovation was unavailable.

Plans call for the addition of a conference center for client and social use along with collaborative workspace. Nelson, an international architectural firm, will design the new space. Centric Projects is the contractor.

Work is to begin this spring and be completed by early 2015.

Spencer Fane was founded in Kansas City in 1879 and has six offices in four states. It employs a total of 130 attorneys.


Developer pursues $125 million Downtown apartment plan

An Indianapolis developer with local roots is planning to build three separate Downtown apartment projects totaling 661 units in the Quality Hill and West Crossroads areas, according to a report in The Kansas City Star this week.

Jim Thomas, a partner with Cityscape Residential who grew up in Raytown, wants to enter the urban market in a big way with an investment in new apartment construction totaling $125 million, according to a story by reporter Kevin Collison.

The proposed Crossroads West apartment complex would feature a six-story building with 275 luxury apartments wrapped around a 400-space parking garage.

The proposed Crossroads West apartment complex would feature a six-story building with 275 luxury apartments wrapped around a 400-space parking garage.

If his development plan rolls out as proposed, it would be almost twice the investment planned by the Cordish Co. in its 25-story, 311-unit apartment tower scheduled to break ground at 2 p.m. Monday at 13th and Walnut streets. It’s also twice the size as the 323-unit Market Station development that opened in the River Market in 2010.

Thomas is seeking a 25-year property tax abatement for the entire development and is scheduled to have his request reviewed Friday by the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority.

“Nobody loves Kansas City more than I do,” Thomas told The Star on Wednesday. “I’ve tried to do new development in Kansas City over the years, but the opportunities were too small for investment-grade, high-quality developments of interest to institutional investors.”

Downtown housing has been a priority for the city and Downtown Council, an organization of property and business owners. The Downtown Council reports nearly 20,000 people lived in greater Downtown last year, and the goal is to double that number.

The Star continued:

But now, Thomas said, the planets have aligned for one of the bigger apartment deals in downtown history, particularly involving new construction rather than conversion or renovation.

He has a contract to buy two sites on the west edge of Quality Hill along the bluff overlooking the West Bottoms, and a triangular site in an area called Crossroads West southeast of Interstate 35 and Southwest Boulevard near La Bodega restaurant at 703 Southwest Blvd.

The Crossroads West project calls for a six-story building with 275 luxury apartments. It would be wrapped around a 400-space garage. The project calls for demolition of a vacant Jones Store warehouse at 2311 Jefferson St.

The Quality Hill projects are called Apex on Quality Hill, a 130-unit development between Case Park and the HNTB office building at 715 Kirk Drive, and Summit on Quality Hill, a 256-unit development south of 12th Street straddling Pennsylvania Avenue.

If the tax incentives are approved, construction could begin on all three projects by the end of this year. The smaller Apex project would be completed by the end of 2015, and the larger Summit and Crossroads West projects by mid-2016.

Thomas said based on the strong demand for downtown housing — the occupancy rate is well in excess of 90 percent — and the quality of the new construction planned, “I’m absolutely, completely, and have total faith the demand is there to absorb that many units.”

Still, he said the difficulties in developing the urban sites will require the tax abatement incentive to make the projects economically viable.

The Crossroads West project is being designed by Helix Architecture & Design, and Thomas described the style as “playful.” It would be split evenly between one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The units would range in size from 650 to 800 square feet for a one-bedroom, and 1,000 to 1,300 square feet for a two-bedroom. Monthly rents would range from $950 to $1,200 for one-bedrooms and $1,600 to $1,800 for the twos. Parking would be included.

Amenities would include balconies, a pool, coffee bars, bicycle lockers and a club area. The garage would face I-35 with the apartments oriented toward downtown.

The Quality Hill projects are being designed by NSPJ Architects of Prairie Village. All the buildings in both developments would be four stories with parking on the basement level.

The Apex on Quality Hill project calls for two buildings, and the Summit on Quality Hill project would have five buildings. Monthly rents would range from $1,000 to $1,200 for one-bedroom units, and $1,600 to $1,800 for two bedrooms. Parking is included in the rent.

Over the past 20 years and working with different firms, Thomas estimated he has developed 3,500 luxury apartments in the Kansas City area.

Cityscape Residential also is developing apartments at the Prairiefire development at 135th Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.

Besides Kansas City, the firm has developed apartment projects in Indianapolis and Louisville, Ky.


DTC, Central Library to celebrate Crossroads Academy’s 2nd year

The Central Library, the Crossroads Academy and the Downtown Council will collaborate on a special breakfast event next week to mark the home stretch of the second full year of successful operations at the school.

Crossroads Academy charter elementary school students.

Crossroads Academy charter elementary school students.

The Crossroads Academy is the academically rigorous, tuition-free, elementary charter school in Downtown Kansas City. The school works in close partnership with the  Central Library, the school’s library, the Downtown Council and the Downtown Community Improvement District on many fronts.

You are invited to attend this free event at 8 a.m. Wednesday, April 16, at the library. To RSVP, click here or call 816-701-3407.

Following a light breakfast buffet, a brief program will begin at 8:30 a.m. and feature the premiere of a student-produced video about the Library, plus a song by students in the school’s new performing arts program. Remarks will be made by Dean Johnson and Susan Maynor from Crossroads Academy, Bill Dietrich, Downtown Council president, and Crosby Kemper III, Library director.



One Light residential tower to break ground on Monday


You are invited to a milestone event in Downtown Kansas City at 2 p.m. Monday at 13th & Walnut.

A ground-breaking ceremony is set for Monday in the Power & Light District, where officials will ceremonially welcome the One Light luxury residential tower to the Downtown neighborhood.

The Cordish Co. will break ground on the 25-story apartment project at 2 p.m. Monday. It intends to make One Light the first of four residential towers that will be built in the Downtown Power & Light District.

One Light, the first new residential tower built Downtown since the 32-story San Francisco building opened in Crown Center in 1976, was first announced 19 months ago, but Cordish officials said design tweaks to the 315-unit building delayed its construction start.

To learn more about One Light, check out the project announcement in The Kansas City Star and a recent KCPT story about the project and residential growth in Downtown.










King Tut exhibit begins first full week of showings at Union Station

This is a King Tut exhibit for the digital age, according to The Kansas City Star.

A replica of the Boy King’s mummy, created by a 3-D printer, is as close to the real thing as you’re going to get this side of the Valley of the Kings, according to The Star’s coverage by reporter Matt Campbell.

Coffins are just two of more than 1,000 replicated objects on exhibit now at "The Discovery of King Tut" at Union Station.  Photo courtesy of The Kansas City Star.

Coffins are just two of more than 1,000 replicated objects on exhibit now at Union Station.

The Star reported:

The blackened thing is an arresting highlight of a new exhibit which opened Friday at Union Station, a North American premiere.

It’s true, “The Discovery of King Tut” does not contain actual Egyptian artifacts from more than 3,300 years ago. But in an era of virtual reality, the producers say they are offering something else: a chance to re-create a moment of wonder.

“Once that tomb was found, it was clear that it was the find of the century — or ever,” said Egyptologist David Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who is a scientific director for the exhibit.

Silverman, who was curator of three touring shows of actual Tut objects, said this exhibit allows visitors to experience things the others could not.

Visitors pass chambers of the exact size that were found in the Valley of the Kings and see the golden and wooden-carved objects under choreographed spotlights, along with an audio guide that is included with admission.

“Here they are in the darkness,” Silverman said of the stacked and jumbled objects discovered in 1922. “This is the way they were found.”

After the theatrics, the second part of the exhibit allows visitors to take a closer look at those objects as they appeared after being cleaned up and restored to their original glory.

The detail extends to variations in style among hieroglyphs on a gold-plated shrine.

“In no other example does it look like this,” said Silverman, pointing out a slight difference in a character, “so this was done by a different artist in ancient times. And the replica is that good, that it picked it up.”

The reproductions took craftsmen more than two years to create and may appear even better than the originals do these days in politically turbulent Egypt.

“I was at the Cairo Museum in December,” said Christoph Scholz, executive producer of the new exhibit. “Everything is in a complete desolate state.”

Tutankhamun was a pharaoh who died young and whose tomb was undiscovered until British archaeologist Howard Carter found it in 1922. Carter’s story is told in a brief introductory film.

Tut’s tomb actually was looted at least once around the time of his burial, but the thieves were caught. Carter found some rings strewn in a corridor.

“We don’t know exactly what they have stolen,” said Egyptologist Wolfgang Wettengel, also a scientific director for the exhibit.

But more than 5,000 precious objects were still there when Carter poked his candle into a small hole and reported that he saw “wonderful things.”

“The Discovery of King Tut” exhibit has more than 1,000 replicated objects, including the famous golden mask. Another centerpiece is the king’s chariot, which had retreaded wheels, indicating he actually used it.

Robert Cohon, a professor of ancient art and curator of the Egyptian collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, toured the Union Station exhibit Wednesday afternoon as workers were finishing up. He declared it “absolutely top-rate.”

“Kids are going to really enjoy it,” Cohon said. “They’re going to want to read more about Egypt, and that stimulation is fundamental to education. … I mean, golden thrones, golden chariots, mummies, it has everything.”

The Union Station exhibition runs through Sept. 7. For ticket information, click here.