Sunday, June 14, 2009

MAC Properties and Hyde Park -- Kansas City

posted by chicago pop

That's Not the Del Prado:
The Bellerive Hotel, Kansas City, Missouri

If and when Off-Off Campus does an improv routine touching on Hyde Park's second-largest landowner, MAC Properties, there's a one-liner they'd be foolish to pass up:

Eli Ungar: "I liked the Hyde Park neighborhood so much, I decided to buy another one."

In point of fact, things didn't progress in quite that order. Ungar's MAC Properties began acquiring residential properties in Chicago's Hyde Park at about the same time, in 2005, that it began to do the same in Kansas City's own historic Hyde Park neighborhood.

Vernacular Kansas City Two-Flats

The similarities between the two Hyde Park neighborhoods are curious. Both are linked to the larger city by a system of boulevards inspired by the City Beautiful movement. Both neighborhoods were platted in the mid- to late-19th century, and both are adjacent to smaller developments called "Kenwood." Both were annexed to their larger metropolitan neighbor after a few decades of municipal independence. Both are a mix of gracious, 19th century homes on broad, leafy streets, and taller 1920's residential hotels, with smaller 3-story apartment buildings sprinkled in between. Both are racially diverse, and both have suffered from urban decline.

And now, both neighborhoods are home to Eli Ungar's MAC Properties.

MAC's object in both neighborhoods, to quote MAC's Peter Cassel, is to develop "contemporary apartments in classic buildings." In practice, that translates into a $30 million project renovating vintage 20's transient hotels, together with smaller apartment buildings, and bringing them to market as middle-range rentals targeted at middle-class professionals.

In Chicago, examples of this strategy are the Del Prado, Windemere, and Shoreland Hotels. In Kansas City, it is the Bellrive and four similar buildings on Armour Boulevard.

The Bellerive's Casbah Room in its Glory Days

A local paper detailed the glamorous heyday of the Bellerive in the Roaring Twenties.

The ornate red-brick structure was Kansas City's fanciest apartment hotel when it was built in 1922, boasting a parade of famous guests: opera diva Ernestine Schumann-Heink, actress Mary Pickford, silent-film actresses Lillian and Dorothy Gish, contralto Marian Anderson and writer Edith Sitwall. Even Al Capone stayed there... Stars like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Liberace, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis performed at the hotel's swanky Casbah nightclub. Partly because of its past and partly because of its neobaroque architecture, the Bellerive made it onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

That didn't keep it from falling victim to the declining fortunes of Hyde Park in general, which like those of it's Great Lakes sister, set in after World War II. It's a familiar story.

By the end of the Second World War, a profound change had occurred in the area. Many of the original owners had died or moved to larger communities, with newer addresses of quality. The large old homes were converted into apartments and sleeping rooms. The neighborhood began a long, slow decline which continued unchecked until the 1970's.

By the early 2000's, four the the five old hotels on Armour were vacant, and the Bellerive was traded from developer to developer as plan after plan fell through. The neighborhood was being polarized between affluent homeowners in the 19th century homes on smaller side streets, and the concentration of low-income renters in subsidized housing along Armour. Not long after MAC acquired the property, vandals began raiding it for copper pipe.

Renovation Underway at an Old Hotel on Armour Boulevard

By 2010, MAC hopes to have turned the situation around. Of the 3,000 plus rental units in the Hyde Park neighborhood, MAC has approximately 250 units in service, and 400 in development. The neighborhood has received MAC warmly, with neighborhood groups advocating strongly for MAC in negotiations with the Kansas City government in 2006 and 2007.

Speaking of the Armour Boulevard Hotels, a representative of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association told a reporter in 2006, "The precedent that needs to be dumped is that this is an area for subsidized housing. These buildings need to be brought back and brought back now. Everybody agrees it needs to be a mixed-income neighborhood."*

Sullivanesque portal of a non-MAC neighbor on Armour Boulevard, the Newbern (1922)

Another representative of the Hyde Park group agreed with MAC in 2007 that the "neighborhood has maintained that the key to saving Armour is opening it to free market housing."** This view ultimately swayed city hall, convincing the relevant tax agency to wave certain fees for a 17 year period in the expectation that MAC's investment would help revitalize a centrally important part of Kansas City.

Renovated Lobby of a Hyde Park MAC Property

Stairwell of a Renovated Hyde Park MAC Property

As with Chicago's Hyde Park, MAC has made the bet that Kansas City, a growing Midwestern city with a healthy downtown just 3 miles away, home to a number of corporate headquarters, a major university, and a hospital complex, would support a growing market for middle-class renters in a neighborhood where they would add a much-needed demographic balance.

The scale is smaller in Kansas City, and there are no plans for major new developments like Solstice or the Village Center site. The neighborhood politics in Kansas City are also less convoluted, with the prominent neighborhood groups recognizing that an improvement in the housing stock -- or simply the preservation of Hyde Park's urban fabric, as opposed to clearance -- will benefit the entire community.

A MAC Building Near the Bellrive Hotel

So Hyde Park now has a sister city -- not Paris, Florence, or London, but good old Kansas City, Missouri.

* "Armour Projects Set Back. Five Building Renovations Stumble over Fee Wavers and Tax Abatements." The Kansas City Star, December 2, 2006.
** "Project to Redevelop Buildings is Revived." The Kansas City Star. February 21, 2007.


Drew said...

Thanks for the Off-Off shout-out, Pop.

Anonymous said...

The lobby with the two chairs and clock is gorgeous.

I'm curious where Antheus gets the money for all these projects. (Not suspicious, just curious.) It can't be cheap to carry huge buildings like Del Prado for months or years with no paying tenants, while major renovations are underway.

I've seen them doing so much good around the neighborhood. It makes me happy every time I drive by some old dump and see that they've put their sign out front and started renovation work.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Honestly, out-of-state investigative reporting? This blog is high class.

chicago pop said...

Liza: I don't know about high-class, but it is good to get out of the neighborhood for a while, even if it's just to visit the same neighborhood a few states over.

Greg: where does Antheus get their money? I can't speak to that specifically (maybe a MAC affiliated-reader can), but in general terms, if it's like other private equity groups, then they raise money from investors. And despite the impression that one gets walking down 57th Street, there are lots and lots of very rich folks looking for places to park their money, easily 100s of millions of dollars of it. Investing it in scores of rehabbed rental buildings would be like a very safe savings account, or maybe a 30-year certificate of deposit. You know you'll get your money back at the end, you earn some interest in the meantime (rents). And if you're lucky, when you sell it all, the neighborhood will have transformed and you will reap a handsome return.

Richard Gill said...

"As with Chicago's Hyde Park, MAC has made the bet that Kansas City, a growing Midwestern city with a healthy downtown just 3 miles away, home to a number of corporate headquarters, a major university, and a hospital complex, would support a growing market for middle-class renters in a neighborhood where they would add a much-needed demographic balance."

The proximity of urban universities to both Hyde Parks is a particularly strong shared characteristic. The University of Chicago is situated in Chicago's Hyde Park; Kansas City's Hyde Park is bracketed by the Volker and Hospital Hill campuses of the University of Missouri Kansas City.

Thanks, Chicago Pop, for researching and writing this post.

Anonymous said...

College towns are great for rental investment. As long as there are college students, there will always be kids who don't want to live in the dorms. :-)

Eric said...

I live in Kansas City's Hyde Park, very close to the specified buildings, and I want to commend you on the informative article.

It's good to know the developers are experienced, but I honestly have wondered how they are going to make the economics work on the project. We don't command the square foot prices for rent or ownership in K.C. that they do in Chicago. I am very happy, though, that the developer is undertaking the work and helping these wonderful buildings and area down the revitalized and stately path they deserve.

Amber said...

Perhaps you should look into properties in Cincinnati's Hyde Park. Its fairly similar to the description of KC's and Chicago's (also has a Kemper neighborhood nearby, oddly enough)