150 black-owned Kansas City companies are promoted by Omaha Developer | supersedes KCUR 89.3

Willa Robinson will likely have to relocate her business, Willa’s Books and Vinyl, which she has operated in the Citadel Office Building at 1734 E. 63rd Street since 2015. She heard a rumor that the building will be demolished in the fall.

Neither the new developer, Clarity Development Company of Omaha, Nebraska, nor the former local owner, John Barbieri, mentioned the possibility of relocating to her or the other 150 mostly black tenants in the building. However, a recent article published in the Kansas City Business Journal states that the six-story building will be demolished later this year or early next year to make way for a $ 35 million residential home with 181 units.

Barbieri either managed or owned the building for 26 of its 49 years. He currently manages it for Clarity and a related business unit in Nebraska that owns the building.

“I called him and left a message. I said, ‘John, you have to tell me something because we’re hearing all these rumors. ‘Said Robinson. “He never answered me.”

Barbieri said he thought it would be more appropriate for the new developer to deliver the news, so he was silent. However, Neeraj Agarwal, the main operator of Clarity Development, said he was waiting to contact tenants until he had a firm plan, which is expected to kick in after the city map commission meeting on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.

“We want to make sure we’re giving good information instead of just speculating and causing more concern,” said Agarwal.

But tenants said they had been quite concerned and speculating for months, and the silence from the stakeholders made matters worse.

Anne Kniggendorf

The office building at 1734 E 63rd Street is home to 150 black businesses. It will be destroyed in late 2021 or early 2022.

The building, with a bus stop in front of the house for easy access to the community, houses hairdressers, a lunch counter, a dermatologist, retail stores, art studios, and more. Robinson said it was sort of an incubator for black businesses – unlike anything else.

“I have to give [Barbieri] Props because he allowed people to come in, people who didn’t have a lot of money, and they came in and started businesses, ”Robinson said.

Tenant Sheri Hall agreed. “That’s part of why I have a problem with what is being done with this building,” she said. “Because this is probably the only building like this that small black businesses and startups can step into and really gain a foothold.” affordable rent. “

Barbieri said the building was about 80% empty when he started managing it 26 years ago.

“I’ve found over the years that it’s just about being able to work with people and with people in the community, the African American community, and I seem to have been able to,” he said.

He kept the rent cheap, below $ 10 per square foot, including utilities. He was also willing to share suites, like the one Robinson is in, so two companies can occupy the original space for one.

Given the uncertainty, Hall tries to centralize communication between the other tenants. She is the CEO of Poetry for Personal Power, an advocacy group specializing in arts, entrepreneurship and mental health for local residents.

Some time ago she started putting together a tenants’ association to fix the many necessary repairs in the building. She said the parking lot was in poor condition and an elevator needed replacing, among other things.

“But now it has become: where will people move? What are the resources? How do we stop this? How can we make our voices heard? “Said Hall.

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Sheri Hall

Sheri Hall is a tenant in the Citadel Office Building and is working to establish communications with other tenants in the face of uncertainty while they wait to find out what will happen to the structure.

She said the lack of communication made her feel disrespected, and the little she knows about Clarity’s plan to convert the building into 181 one-bedroom apartments and offer free technology classes to local residents also appears to be a cause for concern to give.

“It’s very condescending. That’s one of the things that got me angry, ”Hall said.

Barbieri said the repairs had become too much for him and he knew it was time to move on. However, when he sold the building, he didn’t know what the developer’s plan was.

Emmet Pierson, president and CEO of Community Builders in Kansas City, said the project is still in its infancy. Pierson had also bid for the building and understands that the decision to demolish or rehab is not an easy one.

“It’s a nice dance between being able to rehabilitate it and paying a mortgage. And most of the people there are paying well below the market rent, ”said Pierson. “We wouldn’t have all kicked out, but there would have been some postponements.”

The building is in the Swope Park Opportunity Zone. The federal government has designated 8,760 areas in the US and five territories as Opportunity Zones, which means they are in economically deprived areas and tax incentives are offered to those who will invest in them.

Pierson said there are no rules stipulating that a developer has to work with the community.

It just says, ‘Here’s what the Opportunity Zone can be used for, this is an eligible use, it’s a real estate company. “So there is nothing in the legislation that says they have to keep these small businesses,” he said.

Agarwal said his company is working closely with local real estate agents to find similar situations for displaced tenants. He worked with a local market research firm to pinpoint these locations and what kind of resources the area could really be using.

His study shows the region needs affordable one-bedroom housing for service workers and first responders. The project, named Brookside East, leverages the federal low-income tax credit program for residential real estate. The goal is to offer rent between $ 850 and $ 875 per month.

“We will search for publicly available resources online and determine affordable rents for Jackson County. Affordability is defined as 60% of the area’s median income, ”said Agarwal.

He added that Clarity will not only be moving tenants, but will also generate interest among tenants in returning to the new building, although construction will take around 18 months and no start date has been set.

“We always like the idea of ​​a mixed-use component that results in a more unique project, and maybe some of these tenants even have services to offer to residents. I think it could be a win-win situation for sure in the end, ”said Agarwal.

He also said the project is still in the planning stages so the types of apartments and the space available for business use may change.

The only thing that is certain is that the existing building will be demolished sometime between October and the first quarter of 2022 and the 150 current tenants will have to find a new place to set up a business.

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