By LESLIE COLLINS
December 18, 2013
“What an unbelievable day in so many ways. I have a shiver up my spine, and it’s not because of the weather,” said City Council member Scott Wagner.
As Wagner stood in front of Building 11, he spoke highly of the Hardesty Renaissance project which aims to redevelop the former Hardesty Federal Complex site, 607 Hardesty Ave., Kansas City, Mo. Wagner was one of a number of guests who spoke during the Dec. 10 groundbreaking ceremony for the former federal site.
Built in 1940, the Hardesty Federal Complex originally served as an Amry Quartermaster’s Depot and was transferred to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) in 1960. A number of federal agencies used the buildings until 2002, and the site remained vacant until the Hardesty Renaissance Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a non-profit, purchased the site for $500,000 in 2011. Six buildings are located on the 18-acre site and total 572,000 square feet. Hardesty Renaissance’s parent company is Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), an organization based in New York that focuses on equal employment, developing affordable housing, microloans and granting mortgages to individuals. AAFE also developed two Community Development Fund Institutions (CDFIs).
AAFE Chief Executive Officer Chris Kui said people continue to ask him, “Why Kansas City?”
“I say, ‘Why not?'” Kui said. “Why not Kansas City? Kansas City is an American and international city.”
Kui boasted of Kansas City’s “amazing football team and locally grown food” as well as its stellar barbecue and Sporting Kansas City team.
“We decided to take a chance on the property here in Northeast Kansas City,” Kui said. “People ask me if I’m crazy. I’m not crazy, I’m bold. We saw it as an opportunity to put our experience in community development with transforming what has been a community blight into a large scale mixed use project that will become a national model for economic development.”
For two years, Hardesty Renaissance has worked to establish relationships in the community and garner feedback and had two feasibility studies completed – one by the Port Authority of Kansas City and the other through a MidAmerica Resource Council (MARC) Planning Sustainable Places grant. The Port Authority study concluded a food hub would be beneficial to the area, and MARC helped identify gaps in the region’s food system that could be filled by operators at Hardesty.
For Phase I of site development, Hardesty Renaissance will renovate Building 11 and perform asbestos abatement. The renovation will create a workspace, exhibit area for attracting potential partners, tenants and operators, and a community meeting room. Phase I is scheduled to be complete by the spring of 2014. Kui said he’s confident the overall project will revitalize the Northeast and serve as a catalyst for additional economic opportunities in the area. Beginning in 2014, Hardesty Renaissance will begin to further develop a business and financial plan which will build on the two feasibility studies.
“New life is certainly happening here,” City Council member Jermaine Reed said. “This is an exciting day as we stand here on this site that once stood vacant. It’s exciting to know it’s going to bring back new life to the area.”
Wagner added to Reed’s statement, saying, “It’s like the Phoenix rising from the ashes for a property that most people wrote off. That vision, that boldness, that craziness is beginning to bear fruit.”
City of Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte said the city “couldn’t be happier” with AAFE’s work and added, “We’re going to get out of your way, and let you be creative and unleash the full potential for this corridor.”