BY SARAH GISH
June 14, 2018 05:30 AM
In 1915, Hotel Bray opened at 1114 Baltimore in downtown Kansas City. At nine stories tall and just 25 feet wide, the 100-room hotel had the whimsical look of something you’d see in a Wes Anderson movie. The New Yorker features 29 affordable units, most under $1,000 a month. The century-old building once housed the Hotel Bray and, later, The New Yorker Inn.
The building’s new owner, KC Loft Central, preserved its quirky character while converting it to a modern apartment building. The New Yorker opened June 1 with 29 compact units with prices ranging from $525 for a 350-square-foot “micro studio” to $1,250 for a 745-square-foot apartment with one bedroom and two bathrooms.
John Bennett, executive vice president of KC Loft Central, says the project was designed to appeal to downtown dwellers who want to live in the center of the city without paying sky-high prices. Three out of four New Yorker apartments cost less than $1,000 per month. All are occupied. Bennett says there’s a huge demand for affordable downtown apartments. “Everyone’s building luxury,” he says. “There’s nothing for the guy who’s a bartender at Hotel Phillips.”
Service industry workers are increasingly getting priced out of the area, which is in the midst of a luxury apartment boom. Two Light, a residential high-rise that opened last month at 1444 Grand Blvd., has 296 apartments with rents ranging from $1,200 for a one-bedroom to $6,000 for a penthouse. Union Berkley Riverfront, which also opened in May just north of downtown, offers 407 units. The most expensive penthouse has three private balconies with eye-popping views of the river and downtown. Around 25 percent of units are leased.
Both luxury developments were built with financial incentives from the city and aim to attract residents with amazing amenities, from swimming pools and state-of-the-art gyms to dog parks and rooftop decks. KC Loft Central did not seek tax abatements from the city for The New Yorker, which cost around $3 million to renovate.
The building offers modest amenities: a small fitness studio, a hangout room with a TV and wet bar and a coffee shop on the ground level. Made in KC Cafe sells espresso alongside salted caramel brownies and other baked goods from Heirloom Bakery in Brookside.
The coffee shop, which has the original hand-laid floral mosaic tile from the Hotel Bray, is working on adding a taproom that will serve local beer, wine and spirits.
The New Yorker’s units are modern but not over-the-top fancy. The kitchens have stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and subway tile backsplashes. The floors are polished concrete with bits of the hotel’s original hexagon tile floors peeking through. Some of the building’s interior brick walls are painted white, and exposed pipes line the ceiling. Those design choices kept costs down while lending a raw, industrial look. Units do not have washers and dryers, but The New Yorker offers a free laundry room on the fourth floor. The building doesn’t have parking, but residents with cars can rent spaces in neighboring garages.
Bennett says many tenants don’t have cars — they walk or take the streetcar, which is one block away. And some residents who have cars leave them at work. You have to be willing to compromise to get a good deal on a downtown apartment, Bennett says. “You’re not going to get an affordable apartment with all the bells and whistles.”
KC Loft Central manages 700 market rate apartments in the downtown area. The company’s average rent ranges from $850 for studios to $1,630 for two-bedroom apartments. To qualify, residents must make at least three times the price of rent. That means residents of The New Yorker must make $18,900 a year to qualify for the least expensive studio, or $43,200 to live in the priciest one-bedroom.
The building would be considered “affordable” under the city’s new definition, which states that “affordable” apartments must cost less than 30 percent of the median household income in Kansas City. According to current U.S. Census numbers, Kansas City’s median household income is $47,489 — which means apartments must cost less than $1,319 a month to be “affordable.”
Bennett says KC Loft Central is “filling a void” by creating more affordable apartments in the city center. “What I see is a bigger piece of the pie downtown,” he says.
The developer adds that although The New Yorker has no vacancies, there are still plenty of options out there for those willing to give up luxurious amenities, fancy finishes and square footage for a home in the heart of the city. Those renters, he says, are sort of like hotel guests: They want to explore the city, not hang out in an apartment all the time.
“You have to get out on the street and jump on the streetcar.”