Columbus Park neighbors are finally seeing movement on a long-awaited redevelopment of six acres of Housing Authority land north of Fifth Street.
On December 6, 2022, the Housing Authority of Kansas City (HAKC) issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for six acres of land in Columbus Park near Fifth and Harrison, known as Guinotte Manor Phase III, where a DIY skatepark is today. Proposals are due February 3, 2023.
“It feels like this will make or break the neighborhood,” said Columbus Park Community Council President Kate Barsotti. “I have no idea what the developers will suggest at this point because, for some background, this has been 20 years in the making. This should have been done a long time ago.”
According to the RFP, in May 1997, HAKC, the Guinotte Manor Tenants Association, and the City of Kansas City, Mo., signed a Cooperative Agreement that set forth the terms for redeveloping Guinotte Manor, a 412-unit public housing development built in 1954.
With the assistance of a HOPE VI grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), HAKC demolished the old buildings on the site and constructed a new 219-unit development of townhomes, garden apartments, and a community center on the eastern two-thirds of the site, guided by the principles of “new urbanism” with a desire to create a walkable community that complemented the residential character of Columbus Park.
The Guinotte Manor subdivision was re-platted in 2001, and the west six acres of the old development site, known as Phase III, remained vacant, held for future development. In the Cooperative Agreement with the City, HAKC agreed not to build additional public housing on this site, and to transfer ownership of the property either by sale or long-term ground lease to a responsible developer upon approval of a redevelopment plan by a committee of Guinotte Manor, Columbus Park, City and HAKC representatives.
Through a planning process sponsored by the City, the six acres became part of a larger 20-acre redevelopment plan for the neighborhood, including approximately 14 additional acres between Third and Fifth Streets west of Phase III, which were once primarily zoned for industrial purposes.
It was the goal of the Columbus Park Urban Village Development Concept Plan to create a mixed-use, mixed-income “urban village” with medium density housing and a revitalized Fifth Street that would become a dynamic part of the larger community.
In 2004, the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) issued an RFP for a master developer to implement the 20-acre redevelopment plan for Columbus Park. A pre-development contract with Columbus Park Developers (CPD) was executed in 2005 and a development contract in 2007 for CPD to serve as master developer for the amended Columbus Park Urban Renewal Plan.
CPD remains the master developer for the district under the current amended contract and redevelopment plan most recently amended in 2017. The CPD is no longer the master developer for the Housing Authority property that is the subject of the recent RFP.
“Unfortunately, that was 25 years ago, and they have yet to really do anything with our property, so we made a determination that we’re going to go forward with our own Request for Proposal for development,” said Edwin Lowndes, Executive Director at HAKC. “We’ve been working very closely with different leadership down in Columbus Park to have them be part of our review panel of what would work best.”
The RPF does not specify a type of housing development, but rather leaves it up to developers to review the property and surrounding neighborhood to create a proposal for what they think the best use would be.
Neighbors don’t know what to expect from the new proposals. The acreage was previously reserved for modest homes for purchase. But when proposals come in, the neighborhood will want to review them and give feedback. They’ve had interest by word of mouth, but Barsotti, resident for the past 20 years, has no idea how many developers will officially respond.
The proposals will be reviewed by the Review Panel, which includes representatives from HAKC, the City, the tenant association and Columbus Park. Lowndes said Columbus Park will not just give feedback on a final proposal, but they’ll be part of the selection process.
Lowndes said the skate park, which is in the public Right of Way (ROW) is unsanctioned and they have no claim on the property.
“I think the City’s essentially just allowed it, nothing official, to our knowledge,” Lowndes said. “We routinely notify the folks who run it – there isn’t a true ownership, but kind of the leaders of the skate park area – to remain off our property and, for the most part, they do.”
In Columbus Park, current housing ranges from 100-year-old single family and multifamily homes to newer condos and single-family homes. A strong small business community is growing on Fifth Street, longtime restaurants are scattered throughout the neighborhood, and Holy Rosary Church, the Garrison Community Center, and the Don Bosco Senior Center serve as community gathering places and social service centers.
Surrounded by highways, the Columbus Park neighborhood is located between downtown and Berkley Riverfront Park, and immediately east of the historic River Market District and west of the historic Northeast neighborhoods. Recent developments in these three districts have had a significant impact on the Columbus Park housing market, and planning efforts are currently underway to better connect the districts.
More than a year ago, HAKC made the decision to issue the RFP, but it’s taken a while, because of other obligations and time spent soliciting feedback.
“The longer delay, a large part of it was because of the hope that the then-developer, the Columbus Park Development entity; they showed some hits and misses as far as doing some development down there,” Lowndes said. “Because it was vacant ground, it had low maintenance aspects to it, we’d have to make sure to periodically clear out trash and debris, things that vagrants may leave on the property, but for the most part it wasn’t detrimental to the neighborhood.”
As the need for affordable housing grows, it became evident that this was a good time to issue the RFP for different types of housing and use, Lowndes said.
“The housing environment and the whole development environment seems to be appropriate at this time,” he explained.
Although the land has not been reserved for public housing, HAKC would consider proposals that include affordable housing, defined as housing in which the occupant pays no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities.
“We want to make sure it fits in with the neighborhood,” Lowndes said. “Our plan, or what we agreed to, is that we would not tie it to the federal public housing program where it is 100% subsidized, in the true fashion of public housing, but we want to make sure that it is attainable. We don’t want to have a situation where you come in with high end housing, that you then potentially gentrify the neighborhood.”
Lowndes said Columbus Park’s involvement in the process has been very important to HAKC’s work.
“We want their input in there because, first of all, we’re in the neighborhood, too,” Lowndes said. “Our tenants at Guinotte Manor there, the Housing Authority owns a significant property there, we want to make sure that whatever goes on that vacant ground enhances the entire neighborhood, it helps tie the older part of Columbus Park, in with our newer Guinotte so that all the families feel a part of the entirety of the neighborhood.”
Lowndes said they want to expedite the process because the land’s been vacant for so long and the neighborhood wants to see progress.
Further east, HAKC has been working with the City on the former Chouteau Courts site, another demolished public housing complex, near Independence and Paseo. They’ll combine the former Belvidere Park with the site. The City is drafting an RFP, but Lowndes thinks it will go out soon.