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Port KC, Current ownership’s vision aligns as riverfront transformation continues

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Posted at 6:35 PM, Apr 23, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not long ago, the land that became the Berkley Riverfront was a wasteland.

"For people that have been in Kansas City long enough, before this was Berkeley Riverfront, this was a forgotten area,” Port KC President and CEO Jon Stephens said. “There was a tow lot here, there were abandoned cars, the roof of Kemper Arena when it collapsed was dumped here."

Those days seem like a distant memory, even if they aren’t in the life of a city.

“I’m a Kansas City native and even 15 years ago, this riverfront was empty and it needed to be environmentally remediated, needed to be cleaned up, the park needed to be built,” Stephens said. “We worked diligently with many partners to bring that piece to life.”

Today, it’s teeming with activity.

CPKC Stadium, a product of the vision of Kansas City Current owners Angie and Chris Long, opened last month, adding to the growing list of businesses and apartment complexes that have popped up in the area in the last six years.

“Your thinking gets clearer over time,” Chris Long said. “But with the beautiful opportunity that we've had with CPKC Stadium on the riverfront, to do sports-anchored development around it seemed like such a natural fit.”

Building the riverfront into a unique, vibrant neighborhood was always the goal of Port KC, even if that vision wasn’t always an easy sell.

“People didn't believe in it,” Stephens said. “They just didn't think our river was a valuable place for a neighborhood. But once we got started about six years ago, it has now just really started accelerating. With Chris and Angie seeing the vision — and just sort of the shared vision that Port KC has, and that they have once they bought into that — it's really going gangbusters.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround, from dumping ground to enviable asset.

“When you just first see the site, the beauty of the location and where it sits in Kansas City, the proximity to the Missouri River and the beautiful bridge and all that's going around, it's just amazing, it's just kind of striking,” Marquee Development Managing Principal Eric Nordness said.

Port KC and the Current announced a three-phase, 11-acre, $800-million development project Monday.

The entire project, which is part of a development agreement Port KC entered into with the Kansas City Current last summer, will encompass 2 million square feet of development, including 50,000 square feet dedicated to local restaurants, and more than 1,000 residential units, including 10% deemed affordable housing.

Port KC also will expand Berkley Park and build a new Riverfront Promenade.

Phase one, a $200-million initial project, kicks off in the fall and should be finished by early 2026 in time for Kansas City to host the FIFA World Cup.

“The first phase will be a really dense, walkable kind of neighborhood,” Stephens said. “It's new roads, new sidewalks, and then a couple buildings with 400-plus apartments. So, you'll see 600 to 700 new citizens and then wrapping around that will be multiple restaurants and shops and retail.”

Phase one should be completed in early 2026 and will include at least 400 residential units, 10 restaurants, a two-ace community/recreation space and enhancements along with riverfront.

“Think of it as like the front door outside the stadium and really trying to perfect that area, so that by 2026, which is obviously our host duties for the World Cup, we will have a really stunning development that everyone can enjoy,” Chris Long said.

But it will carry the feeling of being at a Current game into the neighborhood. CPKC Stadium has a distinct local flavor among in-stadium vendors and that vibe will permeate the new development.

“Port KC’s vision down here was really to make this a uniquely Kansas City neighborhood,” Stephens said. “As we kind of build the neighborhood on the riverfront from nothing after cleaning the land up, Chris and Angie Long and the partners with the KC Current, they want to share that.”

Initial infrastructure costs for the first phase are expected to be roughly $35 million, which the developers will pay for, but Port KC will pay for some infrastructure costs related to roads, lights and other needs moving forward, Stephens said.

Several $100 million in development already has taken place in the Berkley Riverfront with more than 1,500 residents already drawn to the area, but the new project will draw another 600 or 700 residents.

Chicago-based Marquee Development, which is responsible for the development around Wrigley Field in Chicago, are co-master developers of the project with New York-based Perkins Eastman serving as principal architects.

The second and third phases will be bigger in cost and perhaps scope, but phase one is the catalyst.

“Out of the gate, if you don't set it up correctly, there really isn't a next phase that's successful," Nordness said.

He said the project timeline works because “we're already well down the path of the architectural planning,” which is often a time-consuming process.

Once finished, the project will be a full-circle moment for Kansas City in reclaiming the riverfront.

“As a Kansas City native, this is better than I ever could have imagined and it just is an extension of the vibrancy of our downtown,” Stephens said. “Really, if the heart of our city isn't strong, the rest of the whole metro isn't as strong, and we want to make this a destination for everybody.”

Editor's note: An earlier version of the story, incorrectly identified who wold pay for initial infrastructure costs in the phase of construction recently announced.