Kansas City has issued demolition permits for several buildings in the East Village, one of the best sites being considered for a new downtown baseball stadium.
Crews have already begun demolishing the former Wiltshire Apartments building, a four-story brick structure at 10th and Holmes Streets. Earlier this month, the city also issued pre-demolition permits for several other buildings in the East Village: the Della Lamb building at 1000 Charlotte St., the former Blackstone Hotel at 817 Cherry St., and a parking lot at 815 Cherry St.
The moves are the most visible sign in years of impending change for the long-neglected downtown area and underscore the belief of many that the neighborhood is the Kansas City Royals’ first choice for a new stadium.
“If I had to take a gamble and tell everyone today where that new stadium is going to be proposed, I would go with the East Village,” said Chris Stritzel, a developer who noticed the demolition of the Wiltshire building while walking around the area this week.
“When I saw the whole building being demolished, I thought that must be one of the reasons. I understand that the building was not in the best condition… But at the same time, it looked good enough not to run any risk of collapse, at least in my opinion.
Stritzel’s family owns property in St. Louis, but is currently looking for a inaugural project in Kansas City. He said he has considered the East Village area for a new residential development, but hasn’t made any decisions yet.
“And the debate that would come out is well, what’s the future of this area going to look like because it’s quiet – there’s nothing going on. You are away from the hub of activity. So we waited a bit before actually pulling the trigger on anything.”
But he’s more convinced than ever that the team has already selected this sleepy corner of downtown. Aside from the active demolition, he has looked into renderings released by the Royals showing what a new stadium would look like in the city centre. “Everything fits perfectly,” he said.
“I just feel like they’re very orchestrated, where they already know where they’re going, they’re just giving a sense that this is a process of open commenting and community engagement,” Stritzel said.
The Royals have flirted with a move from their home to the Truman Sports Complex ever since John Sherman bought the club. In November, the Royals CEO officially announced the team’s plans to move away from Kauffman Stadium.
Since then, the team leaders have scheduled three public meetings to share their vision for a new stadium and the surrounding village. Sherman said in November that the development would cost about $2 billion: about $1 billion for the stadium and another $1 billion for the ballpark village.
The Royals currently lease Kauffman Stadium from Jackson County under an agreement that runs through the end of the 2030 season. Team officials have not yet said how much financial support they will ask from taxpayers for a new ballpark.
But Sherman said the team won’t be asking more of Jackson County taxpayers, who are currently paying a three-eight-cent sales tax as part of a 2006 campaign drive to fund renovations at Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums. .
“Most of it will be private,” Sherman said of funding the team’s December event. “We would expect private capital to take care of a major part of the ballpark and for private capital to develop all of the ballpark district around the ballpark.”
Team officials said they had scouted 14 sites for a new stadium. They have not identified a site, though the East Village has been a top contender since the beginning, sources tell The Star.
Another major site considered was near the historic 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District. The Royals had been examining the 20-acre Kansas City Area Transportation Authority campus and the nearby Manuel Career Tech Center, a Kansas City Public Schools facility.
But Frank White III, the new leader of the regional transit agency, says the KCATA site is no longer an option for royalty.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he told The Star in November, shortly after former CEO Robbie Makinen was forced out of his job due to pressure from City Hall.
That leaves the East Village location as a prime option for the Royals.
“We have been consistent and transparent that we have several sites under scrutiny,” the Royals said in a statement. “This remains true and we look forward to continuing the conversation, including next week with two public meetings.”
After hosting a community presentation in December, the Royals announced two more public events at downtown stadium: The first is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at Urban Youth Academy, 1622 E 17th Terrace, Kansas City. Another session is scheduled for 5:30 pm Wednesday at the Midwest Genealogy Center Community Hall at 3440 S. Lee’s Summit Road in Independence.
The three East Village buildings slated for destruction are all under the control of VanTrust Real Estate, the development arm of the financial empire created by local auto dealer-turned-business tycoon Cecil VanTuyl.
VanTrust became a co-developer with Community Builders for the East Village in 2013 and took over the project in 2017. Since then, VanTrust has spent more than $10 million buying most of the land in the area, company records show. property, through an entity called Block 66 LLC.
VanTrust also has the right to purchase the city-owned land at predetermined prices. An April 2017 agreement with the city grants the company “exclusive development rights” within the East Village area and says the city “will not support any other developers” in that area. The deal gives the company until 2027 to begin construction on a development project.
VanTrust spokeswoman Maddy Knott said the company continues to pack land and prepare the area for redevelopment, whether it’s a stadium or something else. The company has begun “rust removal work” on four properties that were “too much gone,” she said.
“We are obviously aware of the Royals’ desire for a downtown stadium and are considering multiple sites,” VanTrust said in a statement. “Regardless of where they land, VanTrust is committed to finalizing the assembly and identifying and executing viable real estate opportunities that will enhance the CBD (Central Business District) and Kansas City as a whole.”
He noted that the company is following the terms of its city settlement and has been coordinating with city officials on archival documentation for the Witshire and Blackstone buildings, both of which are “too far away” to be reused.
City officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
While other parts of the downtown area, including the Crossroads Arts District and the Power and Light District, have seen a resurgence in commercial and residential development in recent years, the East Village has remained largely intact.
On its western flank is the downtown government district, which includes City Hall, the federal and county courthouses, the Richard Bolling Federal Building, Police Headquarters, the Municipal Courthouse, and the Jackson County Detention Center. On its eastern border are Interstates 70 and 35. Eighth Street is north, 12th Street is south.
For decades, the area was home to seedy apartment buildings, outdated hotels and the abandoned Greyhound bus terminal. A downtown booster once described the area as “the trifecta of terror,” alluding to the bus station, Cherry Hill Hotel, and a Valero gas station known for selling cheap booze to teenagers who show IDs fake.
The prospect of a new stadium is a constant topic of discussion for those buying and selling condos in the area. While few people live in the area, three notable buildings — The Metropolitan, The Manhattan, and The View — frame the northern end of the East Village.
“There are those who would be really excited to have a stadium. And I think there are a lot of people who really like being their own little corner of the city,” said Kansas City real estate agent Melissa Hensel.
After more than three years, Hensel sold his condo in the Manhattan building last year. He said the buildings along 8th Street remain relatively affordable compared to other parts of downtown. Some units can be rented for as low as $900 a month and condos can be purchased for less than $150,000.
While the area is poised for redevelopment, she said she is concerned about the effect of new developments such as a stadium or high-end rents, especially during a time when many Kansas citizens are struggling to obtain affordable housing.
“Where will everyone go?” she said.
Peter Carnesciali, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, said the group is intrigued by the prospects of a downtown stadium but doesn’t know enough details to make a stand.
“We have not been contacted directly by the Royals and look forward to hearing from them about plans if the stadium is to be in our neighborhood,” he said. “Our priority is housing and we expect clear communication with downtown residents and opportunities to be assessed before any new development, especially if a public-private partnership is looming on the horizon.”
Carnesciali recognized the redevelopment potential of the East Village, defined by surface parking and vacant lots. “But I think a lot of the void is a result of stalled redevelopment and speculation about getting a stadium there,” she said.
Mike Hendricks of The Star contributed to this story.