Armour Boulevard proposal: everyone favors renovation but…

Photo by Mike Sinclair

Residents from around Armour Boulevard in Old Hyde Park sat down with a developer last night to consider the fate of four buildings at 100-118 Armour.

Only one thing is really clear from the meeting: in a perfect world, the buildings along the once-grand and newly-revitalized boulevard would be preserved and contribute to the life of the neighborhood.

Less resolved is whether it is time to pull the plug on that idea and declare the buildings impossible to renovate.

The location of the properties. The large yellow streets in the map are Broadway to the west and Main to the east.

And residents are faced with a decision or at least a two-pronged strategy moving forward: fight the demolition or work with the developer to get a new structure that they think fits into the character of Armour.

Here’s an overview of what residents heard and said last night:

  • MAC Properties: For the developer, MAC Properties, all efforts to find a way to restore the buildings, including an offer to give them to anyone who had a viable plan, has led nowhere. The only remaining options, and one MAC’s Peter Cassel made clear last night he’s committed to, is demolishing the properties and building a new apartment that will be an asset to his company. “In the past seven years, we have acquired about every apartment we could buy in Midtown. We think there’s a great opportunity for market rate apartments in Midtown. Today, we’re saying we can’t make these work. “ He said the best option is tear down the buildings and replace them with a 40-unit building with two-and-three-bedroom apartments, which fills a need in Midtown.
  • Old Hyde Park Historic District President Marty Phillips:  Phillips is upset that MAC pulled the plug on its December 2012 offer to give the properties away to any developer with a viable plan to renovate them. He said at that time, MAC gave the neighborhood the green light to look for a someone to restore the properties, but MAC withdrew the offer before developers had a chance to respond. “I really felt blindsided,” he said. He continues to argue the block is the gateway into the community, and the integrity of the historic streetscape must remain as much intact as possible, meaning the buildings must be saved. He also said  there are developers who are interested in renovation.
  • Councilman Jim Glover: Glover says he’s worked to try to find a developer to renovate the buildings, but no one who has toured the buildings has made a proposal. “That said, I would still like to see them saved,” he said. Glover has also said in the Kansas City Star that MAC has tried its best to find a developer and it is significant that MAC has offered to build new apartments without asking for a city subsidy.
  • Al Figuly, Executive Director of the PIEA, a city development agency:  “I don’t want to see these buildings go, but sometimes you have to come to grips with the numbers and the process,” Figuly said. Figuly has tried to interest developers in renovating the properties but has found no takers. “At a unit cost to rehab, these structures are not workable.” The proposal to the city estimates to cost of rehabbing each unit at $160,000, compared with a unit cost of $40,000 to $120,000 for MAC’s other properties on Armour. Cassel said his company does not want to ask the city to subsidize the remaining cost with the city’s tight budget.
  • Residents at the meeting: While all those attending the meeting acknowledged that MAC has done a good job with its other properties on Armour, many still believe there’s a chance to find a developer to restore the buildings. “I live in Midtown because I want to live in a historic neighborhood,” one said. “We keep pulling more teeth out of this mouth, and at some point it has to stop.” Others expressed concerns about parking from the new building spilling into the neighborhood streets.
  • The proposed design: Cassel describes the design for the proposed new building, developed by local architects Hufft Projects, as a great opportunity for Midtown. “For communities to develop, we need a mix of old and new,” he said. Matthew Hufft told the meeting his design is based on using old designs in a new and modern way, rather than “faux” historical elements. But one resident called the design a “bastardization of styles” that doesn’t fit the character of Armour. It seems clear that, if the demolition and building moves forward, residents will ask for changes to the current design.

What happens next?

MAC Properties needs approval from the Historic Landmark Commission to tear down the historic properties, and approval for its preliminary design. It goes before the commission on Sept. 24.

Meanwhile, Cassel has agreed to meet again with neighbors during the week of Sept. 9 to discuss and possibly modify the design. He said neighbors should submit ideas and express concerns about the current plans as soon as possible so that architects can consider them.

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