Historic commission denies demolition of Armour buildings

Old Hyde Park president Marty Phillips.

By Joe Lambe (updated at 4:20 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27)

The Historic Preservation Commission today voted unanimously to block demolition of four apartment buildings on Armour Boulevard.

The group, formerly called the Landmarks Commission, voted 5-0 after hearing hours of testimony in the controversial case.

“There’s historic character in those buildings,” said Commissioner Andrew Ray. “The bones are still there.”

The vote stops demolition for three years and is a setback for MAC properties and Silliman Group. They have renovated 21 historic buildings in the Armour corridor and are working on others.

MAC wanted permission to demolish the buildings at 100 to 118 West Armour and to build two new market-rate apartment buildings instead, which would have been their first new construction in the city.

MAC’s Peter Cassel agreed the buildings that date from 1902 were historic but said they would cost too much to renovate – forcing the company to lose money on them for at least 15 years.

“You’re not making the choice between saving these buildings and destroying them,” he said, because the renovation cannot be done.

But many neighborhood residents opposed the demolition and some developers questioned MAC’s numbers and asked for a chance to bid on the work.

Greg Allen, Historic Kansas City Foundation vice president and former Landmarks Commissioner, said “It is not always math that governs these issues,” that their job is to protect these buildings.

As for the MAC numbers for rehab costs, he said, “By their standards I would have to think every six-plex in Midtown is doomed.”

Cassel asked for the commission to allow the demolition because of financial hardship. The company paid $800,000 for them in 2008 and tried to include financing for their renovation packaged with other properties. But investors insisted those building be taken out of the financing package, he said.

Then two companies bid renovation costs at about $4 million, he said, about $166,000 a unit.

Developer Tim Bowman of Compass Resources LLC, testified that comes to about $207 per-square-foot. He said he suspected he could do it for $127 per foot and asked 90 days to submit a proposal.

Cassel said, “Actions speak louder than words – we have renovated over 1,000 apartments and if we could renovate those buildings we would.”

MAC proposed construction of two new buildings with 40 three-bedroom units to replace the 24 two-bedroom units that are there.

He noted that the old buildings were on the market for months and not one developer expressed interest. For a few weeks, MAC even offered to give the properties to a developer who had a solid plan and financing, he said. No takers.

Amanda Crawley, executive director of Historic Kansas City Foundation, said MAC was largely to blame for the bad condition of the buildings.

Renters were there until 2008 and pictures taken inside the buildings in 2009 showed shiny hardwood floors and little damage.

More recent pictures show crumbling walls, broken glass and water damage from leaking roofs.

Cassel said, “I can’t justify not fixing the gutter system,” but they thought then the buildings would get gutted for rehabs. Construction bidders also did damage, he said, and thieves kept breaking in to steal copper and homeless people moved in.

All that is part of the reason he wanted the buildings gone, he said. “We are neighbors here, we have a building across the street, we have a building kitty-corner.”

Others spoke in favor of MAC or sent letters of support, like that of Mayor Sly James.

Aggie Stackhaus, a former city councilwoman and former landmark commissioner, said she tried for decades to get a developer to renovate buildings on Armour and MAC finally did it in a big way.

“I don’t want those buildings demolished,” she said of the four in danger, “but I believe if they can’t (save them) nobody else can.”

Marty Phillips, Old Hyde Park Neighborhood president, led an effort to save the buildings that have historic designation for his neighborhood area and for Armour Boulevard.

MAC has done great work saving historic buildings on Armour but it is not finished, he said.

“We applaud them but we request they complete the job they said they would do and restore those last four buildings or give them to a developer who will,” Phillips said.

Commissioners denied the MAC financial hardship request because it was not proven that the renovations were not feasible and the poor condition of the buildings seemed to be related to MACs care of them.

Ray said he was concerned that MAC officials said they were going to let the buildings sit for three years and demolish them.

After the vote, Phillips said that he hopes that he and others can persuade MAC to allow another developer to take over the properties.