MO: Development Agency Considers Streetcar-Related Projects

June 25--The long-awaited redevelopment of the former Linwood Presbyterian Church, a prominent landmark overlooking Bruce R. Watkins Drive that's been empty since the 1970s, is moving ahead after receiving approval for tax incentives.

The $10 million project, which will convert the historic church into a neighborhood services complex called the Linwood Area Ministry Project, or LAMP, was one of three redevelopment projects considered Wednesday by the city's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

In addition to the Linwood project, the agency considered redevelopment plans for two separate projects at 1914 Main St. and 1915 Main St.

All three are on the planned or proposed routes of the new streetcar.

Linwood Presbyterian, which opened in 1923, has been empty since its congregation moved out in 1975. It was sold in 1979 and then repurchased in 1995 by the Presbyterian Church USA. Since then, a nonprofit group has struggled to come up with a viable plan to reuse the property.

"It's been a 19-year journey," said David Warm, the chairman of Linwood Property Inc., the group established to redevelop the church. "We've come close a couple of times and we're finally there."

The plan calls for the church at 1801 E. Linwood Blvd. and the adjoining Harold Thomas Center at 3210 Michigan Ave. to be redeveloped into a campus for neighborhood services. The agencies involved include the Heartland Presbytery, ReDiscover and the Front Porch Alliance.

The financing includes $2.4 million from the New Market federal tax credit program, as well as $2.9 million to be raised from federal and state historic tax credits. Simmons First Bank of Overland Park is the lender. The LCRA approved a 10-year, 100 percent property tax abatement for the project.

The redevelopment plan calls for the old church to house major clinics operated by ReDiscover. The organization is a nonprofit mental health and substance abuse service provider. Its operations at the former church also will include a day care facility, and meals will be served in the former sanctuary.

A report prepared by Linwood Property described its goal as transforming "one of Kansas City's most visible, yet derelict, landmarks into a vibrant campus of community activity."

Warm, whose full-time job is executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council, said the exterior of the historic church will be restored but the interior will be reconfigured. He noted many of the significant interior features were salvaged many years ago.

Scott Associates, an architectural and development consulting firm, is guiding the project. Kelly Construction Group is the contractor.

The Linwood Presbyterian campus is located along the proposed extension of the Kansas City streetcar system along Linwood Boulevard. That expansion, as well as extensions of the streetcar route down Main Street and Independence Avenue, will be considered by voters later this summer.

Two projects along the downtown streetcar route now under construction, an $8 million apartment development at 1914 Main St. and a $2 million renovation of a dilapidated former nightclub across the street at 1915 Main, also were considered by the LCRA.

Linden Street Partners of Boulder, Colo. is planning a 44-unit, five-story apartment building on what is now a parking lot at 1914 Main. The developers are seeking a property tax abatement, and the LCRA approved the first steps by declaring the area blighted and creating an urban renewal plan.

The City Plan Commission and Kansas City Council must approved the plan before it returns to the LCRA for final consideration of the abatement request. If successful, the developers want to begin construction of the project this September.

Scott Richardson of Linden Street said the developers were attracted to the site because it's on the streetcar route.

"The reason we're here in town and doing the project is the streetcar," Richardson said. "We're excited this will be the first new project on the streetcar line.

"There's an incredible demand for living downtown, especially with millennials, and the same thing happening in Minneapolis and Denver is happening here."

George Cook and Jim Wood of FOK LLC want to renovate a vacant three-story building at 1915 Main immediately across the street from the apartment project. The vacant building last housed the DB Warehouse, a former nightclub, and has been heavily vandalized since the club closed.

The developers want to invest $2 million to renovate the building for office and potential retail space. They also own two nearby parking lots at 1917 Main St. and 1918 Walnut St. that would serve the building.

The LCRA also approved a blight designation and urban renewal plan for the project. That plan also must go before the City Plan Commission and City Council before returning to the agency for final consideration of its tax abatement request.

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Kansas City Star

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