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I can say this rocked my world to read about this since it's being built in my soon to be neighborhood! I'll add a pic later. I'm at work and photobucket is blocked :(

Whole Foods to anchor mixed-use project near UMKC

Development would add upscale rentals, be another boost for area south of the Plaza.


The Kansas City Star

The Whole Foods Market and apartment project is expected to resemble this, viewed looking southeast from 51st Street and Brookside Boulevard. The Trolley Track Trail would run in front of the grocery.

Whole Foods Market plans to anchor a proposed development at 51st Street between Brookside Boulevard and Oak Street that would include 150 luxury apartments and office space for UMKC, the latest venture in the works for the burgeoning South Plaza area.

The store would be the first built in Kansas City, Mo., for the trendy Austin, Texas, organic and whole foods chain — it operates two in Overland Park — and would be the catalyst to an ambitious endeavor pursued by the University of Missouri-Kansas City for about three years.

Most of the planned two-acre site is university-owned property south of 51st Street. The bulk of the property is surface parking, but the site also includes a UMKC annex building and the historic Kansas City Young Matrons Club House.

“We’re very excited about the potential of having something that’s an asset for the entire community,” Bob Simmons, UMKC director of campus facilities management, said Wednesday.

The developer of the proposed five-story project is VanTrust Real Estate, formerly Caymus. VanTrust also is co-developing a $39 million luxury apartment and retail development recently approved by the city two blocks away at 51st and Main streets.

“We’re extremely pleased to have Whole Foods as the anchor tenant,” said Rich Muller, a vice president at VanTrust, a venture controlled by Mission businessman Cecil Van Tuyl.

“The lease with Whole Foods represents a giant step forward, but we’re still working through several major components that are essential to the project’s success.”

The Kansas City lease was one of a dozen Whole Foods executives announced during an investors’ call Wednesday. Other new stores in the region are planned for Wichita and Lincoln, Neb.

Whole Foods had a brief presence in Kansas City when it took ownership of a small former Wild Oats store at 4301 Main St. for a few months in 2010, but this would be its first new store in the city.

“We feel we have a strong commitment to the community and we’re eager to come back and become part of the community again,” said Ben Friedland, executive marketing coordinator for the Whole Foods Rocky Mountain Region.

The biggest challenge for the planned Kansas City store is expected to be a developer request to provide access to the project through a new drive from Brookside Boulevard.

That drive also would cross the popular Trolley Track Trail. That access will require approval from the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and the City Parks and Recreation Board.

“We have concerns about having a crossing of the right-of-way and questions about traffic on Brookside,” said Mark McHenry, parks department executive director.

Muller said the proposal would “preserve the integrity of the Trolley Trail.”

UMKC officials said obtaining the necessary permission to open the proposed new access from Brookside is in the developer’s hands.

“We support the development, but the developer is taking the lead on the curb cut, and the Trolley Trail is key to the retail development,” Simmons said.

The plan also would require the demolition of the UMKC annex building and moving the Kansas City Young Matrons Club House at 5100 Oak.

Simmons said UMKC had a tentative agreement with the organization to move the clubhouse built for the women’s charitable and educational organization in 1935 to a site on campus along Cherry Street across from Epperson House. The one-story building has local landmark status.

Club leaders could not be reached for comment.

The proposed development calls for a 30,000-square-foot Whole Foods store on the first level with four levels of apartments above it, Muller said. The project also would include up to 14,000 square feet of space for the UMKC student health and counseling center. Those facilities are currently at 4825 Troost Ave.

The Whole Foods store would be served by a surface parking lot. The apartments would be wrapped around a garage for residents. The university would retain control of the property and lease it to the developer on a long-term basis.

Though no price tag has been attached yet to the proposal, Muller said it would be similar in quality to the 51st and Main apartment and retail project. That high-end development will include apartments renting from $950 a month for a one-bedroom to up to $1,900 for a two-bedroom.

Simmons said the university supported the project because it furthered the goals established in its master plan 10 years ago.

“As far back as 2002, we’ve looked at locations on the campus edge as sites for economic development that could serve the university and neighborhood,” he said.

“A lot of the activity along Oak is a fulfillment of the master plan goal.”

Over the past few years, UMKC demolished the old Twin Oaks towers nearby the proposed Whole Foods site and replaced it with $55 million student housing development that includes retail.

On the nearby stretch of Main where the other luxury apartment development is planned, DST Realty in recent years has spent $13 million developing new retail and office space.

Most UMKC students wouldn’t be able to afford the rents in the luxury apartment project that would accompany the Whole Foods store, but Simmons said some faculty and others who wanted to live near the university and nearby amenities would find it attractive.

The store also would be a good source of part-time jobs for students. The new UMKC office space would bring counseling and health services closer to the new student housing.

John Martellaro, a UMKC spokesman, said the project supported the university’s strategic plan.

“The university believes the project will create jobs and enhance the quality of life of South Plaza neighborhoods,” he said in a statement.

Not all neighbors agree, however.

Vicki Noteis, a former city planning director who lives in the area, said the increasing amount of development in the area, including the newly approved apartment project at 51st and Main, had not been adequately reviewed by the city.

“There is real concern about putting a large commercial use on a boulevard that requires new access and that has a huge impact on traffic, especially in conjunction with other large projects approved for the neighborhood,” she said.

Martellaro said the university sought input from key stakeholders including student, faculty and neighborhood groups before it reached its development agreement with VanTrust Real Estate.

Muller said the developers would like to break ground on the project sometime in 2013 and the project would take 18- to 24 months to complete.

The affected UMKC parking lots would continue to operate until the start of construction. The new Cherry Street parking garage, scheduled to open in August, was designed to replace those parking spaces that would be lost to the new development.

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