Diocese back with new plan for student housing on Troost

DOMUSDevelopers working with the Catholic Diocese to put student housing on Troost at 51st street were back with a revised proposal yesterday, but neighbors and Catholic parishioners still had a lot of questions and said they had trust issues around the project.

More than 100 people turned out to hear the latest proposal. Patricia Jensen, an attorney with the law firm of White Goss, told the crowd the developers plan to file the new plan on Friday and take the revised proposal to the City Plan Commission on March 15. That body denied developers the permission they need for the project in February of 2014.

Discussion of the project began in 2012, when the Kansas City Catholic diocese proposed having Domus, a developer that has built Catholic residence halls, tear down the former St. Francis Xavier School at 5220 Troost and replace it with a five-story building providing dormitory-style student housing. Neighbors and church members of the Saint Francis Xavier Church next door objected to the scale of the building and said it would create additional parking problems in the neighborhood. A needs assessment of the neighborhood also suggested a number of other uses for the site which residents said would better serve the immediate community.

Steve Harms of Tri-North, a construction management company that has developed student housing in other parts of the country, showed new plans for a scaled-back three-story building that would include 237 beds for students. He also said the new plan includes more green space on Troost and an opportunity for the St. Francis Xavier parish to use the former gym as a parish hall. He estimated the cost at 15 to 16 million dollars.

He said the target residents for the project are upper-class students from UMKC. The dorm-style apartments are intended to attract students who want to live “a Catholic lifestyle,” although Harms said by law the residences would have to be available to anyone who wanted to rent there. He estimated students would pay between $700 and $1200 a month for the rooms.

Patricia Barra, a recent UMKC graduate, said she would have loved to live in this type of housing, but it was not available to her as a student. She said she was a member of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University students. The Diocese hopes some members of FOCUS would live in the housing.

”At UMKC, if you are a Catholic you feel alone,” she said.  “If it wasn’t for FOCUS, I hate to think where I would be now. Students are hungering to live this lifestyle.”

One parish member, Kevin Collison, said the plan “doesn’t pass the smell test.” He questioned the market for students that wanted to live in a religious environment. He also asked Harms what would happen if the project failed to attract enough students to be financially viable.

Harms said a marketing study showed a market for at least 386 students, and that the market study was currently being updated.

Several audience members, including Crestwood neighborhood president Ken Spare, questioned how the developers could go to city hall this week with so many questions unanswered.


  1. Michael Grimaldi says:

    FOCUS is an outreach that “meets colleges students where they are.” http://www.focus.org/about/the-main-thing.html

    And just this week, Pope Francis warned the Church against ‘privatizing’ the faith:” http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2015/01/29/pope-francis-warns-against-privatizing-christianity/

    It’s difficult to reconcile this residence proposal — a proposal to create a self-contained domicile of like-minded Cathoic students — with either the broader objective of FOCUS or with the teachings of the Holy Father.

    And that is all BEFORE considering that this proposal diminishes use of the property to St. Francis Xavier Parish families that contributed to build what continues to be a sound structure; and to the surrounding neighborhood, which could be nourished and enriched by parish and other community programs that could be based in the current structure.

    There’s nothing wrong with the concepts espoused by the developers and their client at this meeting. But is seems dramatically clear that for the above reasons, this is a bad idea for this location.

    After a similar meeting on a previous version of this proposal several months ago, I asked a presenter what the purpose of this project was. His immediate reply, without batting an eye: “To maximize the value of the property.”

    Nothing about evangelizing college students, supporting the parish, sustaining the neighborhood or advancing the Catholic faith in the community. Just, “to maximize the value of the property.”

    I hope and pray that the developers and their client abandon this idea. Instead, I hope and pray that they consider a sustainable re-use of the school building and the property that considers, first, the needs of the parish and the community it serves.

    I hope and pray they consider ways to involve college students in serving the parish and the community in the spirit of Catholic evangelization and of human service that Pope Francis teaches.

    I also hope and pray that the developers and their client seek to support the good work that the parish does daily to serve humanity, which also shines a light on the path to salvation for all.

    (Opinions my own.)

  2. Bruce Palmer says:

    One correction. The article describes Domus as a developer “that has built Catholic residence halls.” While it is true that Domus was _formed_ to be a such a developer, to the best of my knowledge, they have never built anything. This project, should it be approved by the City, would be their first. (For its part, Tri-North Builders has built student residences, but never one that is faith-based.)

    There do exist Catholic residence halls at several universities across the country, which you can read about on Domus’s website: http://www.domuscommunities.com/docs/newmanhousing_ncr_amysmith.pdf.

    Note: Domus, which is based in Kansas City and Lawrence, is not to be confused with Domus Development LLC, which is a private developer of large — and apparently quite luxurious — student housing. Its website is http://www.domusdevelopmentllc.com.

    Finally, I want to thank Michael Grimaldi for his thoughtful comments. I am in substantial agreement with his concerns over this proposed project, and I share with him hopes and prayers for the imaginative and sustainable repurposing of the former St. Francis Xavier School to serve: (1) Catholic students at UMKC; (2) the members of St. Francis Xavier Parish, who are currently without a place to gather socially; and (3) the larger community. Destroying a structurally sound building that lies lightly on the land, and that so many faithful Catholics have invested in over the years would be, in my opinion, a serious failure of stewardship on the part of the Diocese.

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