The Kansas City Power & Light Building
By Jim Moore
After decades of starts, stops, square-offs and squabbling regarding its future, the Art Deco masterpiece that is the Kansas City Power & Light Building —renovated to the tune of $75 million—has finally opened its doors to residents as Power & Light Luxury Apartments.
Downtown has been in short supply of residential options for a long time. Now, in addition to the various loft-style residences available, luxury properties like Power & Light, with its historic tower and neighboring North Building, the nearby One Light and the upcoming Two Light building are expanding the range of choices for people who want to make their homes in Downtown Kansas City.
But as far as Power & Light is concerned—what took so long to make something happen? People have been discussing the possibilities of the iconic tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, for a long time.
Most of the credit, according to Roger Neighbors of Neighbors Construction, the building contractor on the project, goes to Nathaniel Hagedorn and his team at NorthPoint Development. “They just know multifamily and what works,” Neighbors says, “They know the market better than anybody. They had a good plan, good thought and plenty of equity.” High praise, indeed, coming from the president of a company that has been on the Kansas City building scene for 65 years.
Before NorthPoint Development came along with a combination of creativity, capital and craftsmanship that is proving more and more a winning strategy for the Kansas City metro area, at least four other developers had looked at the Power & Light Building but passed on trying to do anything with it.
Hagedorn’s point man on the project, Mark Pomerenke, offers one theory as to why his company was able to move forward, “I think the challenges with the building scared most away.
We identified challenges quickly and what we would need to overcome them.”
Pomerenke adds that after other development plans fell through, the building’s owners—Gailoyd Enterprises Corporation, controlled by the Shulman family of New York—was motivated to sell.
Model living room and kitchen.
Perspective showing the use of space and high ceilings in each apartment.
Model bedroom with a stunning view.
Getting It Started
Timing and planning certainly played a part in NorthPoint’s success but the team that made the Power & Light Building’s comeback happen believes an important human element was at play.
Bill Prelogar of NSPJ Architects, who like Roger Neighbors is a key factor in NorthPoint’s equation for success, puts his finger on it. “There’s certainly something that can be said for bringing in somebody from out of town with fresh ideas and fresh eyes,” he says, “but a sense of the iconic nature, how the building fits into bringing this Downtown back to a vibrant state—I think that’s an important component. Understanding what this building means historically, what it means to the population.”
Prelogar has fond memories of a once-bustling Downtown and the splendid tower that stood high above it all. The team that returned the Power & Light Building to its rightful place of privilege on the Kansas City skyline succeeded
where others didn’t for one very important reason: It mattered to them personally.
NSPJ Architects, Neighbors Construction and NorthPoint Development are all companies filled with people whose families have a personal stake in the future of Kansas City. To date, they have worked on 11 local projects together, yielding nearly 2,700 units.
NorthPoint Development’s capital partners are also personally invested, as well as financially invested, in seeing Kansas City flourish. For instance, there’s Dave Cummings, founder of both Tradebot Systems and Bats Global Markets, two wildly successful local enterprises. His devotion to his home turf is well documented in both his philanthropy and his preference for hiring from Midwest schools to staff his companies. Through his Tradebot Properties group, Cummings is a key member of NorthPoint’s capital-investment team, bringing with him a passion for seeing Kansas City in particular and the Midwest in general thrive.
The spa, including a whirlpool, sauna, and red-light therapy.
The theater lounge.
Rendering of the North Building’s rooftop pool.
Getting It Right
Where other developers came forth with plans accompanied by deal-killer requirements the city wasn’t prepared to meet, NorthPoint Development’s was a plan of action.
As Pomerenke puts it, “People took the approach of buying the whole block and having the city buy it back. We only bought as much as we needed to get the project done the right way.” For instance, NorthPoint kept its purchase price down by not buying the two lots on the western part of the property. Those remain the property of the previous owner.
And where previous developers didn’t want to make a move without their requirements being met, NorthPoint made a gesture that demonstrated their seriousness about the project. They offered to first build a parking garage at their own expense, structuring their plan so that future incentives would eventually cover the spend.
It’s not the first time NorthPoint has dared to put its money where its mouth is. When the city of Riverside was looking for a developer in 2011 for the property now known as Horizons Business Park, Hagedorn’s team put together a proposal that saw NorthPoint use its own money for needed site improvements, in exchange for other considerations.
Part of the creativity of the Power & Light garage plan involved rerouting millions in future incentives from a Tax Increment Financing package that had been given to the Hotel President renovation effort. Since the hotel was outperforming its projections, it was decided that the TIF was no longer needed there and could be applied to the Power & Light project.
That willingness to collaborate, plan and act is a big part of what made NorthPoint Development—just the third owner in the tower’s 85-year history—the only developer to get a successful plan in place to give it back its glory.
The main lobby, where people once paid electric bills, is slated to become the Grand Hall—a public event space seating 500.
Great care was taken to keep the 14th Street lobby and every elevator lobby in the tower as untouched as possible to preserve the building’s atmosphere.
Getting It Done
Getting the right plan and the right partners in place was only the first hurdle. After that, the most demanding player of all—the building itself—started making its presence felt more and more. Studies had been done to prove that the project goal was achievable, but now the team needed to make it happen.
“I was awestruck by the building, just to be a part of it,” says project manager Aaron Neighbors of Neighbors Construction, “but once that went by the wayside, the amount of demolition and prep was overwhelming. A lot of work had to be done before we could even start construction.”
The construction crew found themselves dealing with floor after floor of concrete-encased steel throughout a very sturdily built building that didn’t seem to like being renovated from time to time.
Mike Hagen, president of Mike Hagen Electric, the company that rewired the building, was responsible for making sure demolition could happen safely. For instance, helping crews avoid some existing conduit that needed to stay in place while they worked. “We taped them off with caution tape and painted them bright orange,” Hagen said, “I had safety meetings with the demolition guys and told them if you cut one of these, it’s over.”
Juggling electricity was an important part of the project, and there was a lot of it to juggle—the tower originally was designed as both an office building and an electrical substation for Downtown power. There were 12,000 volts running through the tower—enough for about 6,000 homes.
“There are some days early on,” says Neighbors, when you wonder if it’s going to get done, given all the skills needed for even the smallest task.”
Aaron’s father, Roger, put it well, “It’s like being the dog that chases the car and finally catches it. Now what do I do?”
Indeed, there were surprises abounding throughout the building. Architect Prelogar recalls arriving on the 15th floor to find several 10×50-foot water tanks that once handled water pressure. Once it was decided they were no longer necessary, the tanks were replaced by four contemporary pumps in a room the size of large closet.
Likewise, a 10×20 room filled with electrical components was reduced to the space those functions now require on a laptop computer.
Bill Prelogar offers a good way to put the expansiveness of the project in perspective, “A typical apartment project would have eight or nine permutations of units. Here, we have over 100.”
Due to various structural features that needed to be built around, one apartment may have a corner jutting out in a place where a largely similar apartment doesn’t. And the tower’s tiered “wedding cake” structure gave the team essentially three separate buildings to work on.
Leadership Team | The Power & Light Building fund-develop-design-build team, (left), Aaron Neighbors, Roger Neighbors, Neighbors Construction; Mark Pomerenke, NorthPoint Development; Bill Prelogar, NSPJ Architects, Eric Buer, Tradebot Ventures.
Sharing the Credit
In humble Midwest fashion, the players involved in the Power & Light Building rejuvenation point everywhere but toward themselves when it comes to assigning credit for their success. But to hear any one of them recount the experience, it’s clear that this popular new luxury-apartment site is as much a labor of love as it is a smart investment of capital.
Pomerenke, who is quick to point out the role of economics and timing—such as market conditions being just right for new apartments—has a hard time imagining what the project would have been like without what Norman Rockwell might have called “Kansas City Spirit.”
“If people weren’t excited about the project you couldn’t work with them on it, because it took nine months just to get to the starting line,” Pomerenke says, adding, “If we were from out of town and didn’t have the connection or emotional investment in the building, it would have been easy to walk away. Too many moving pieces, too many things that could go wrong.”
Did things go wrong? Of course, they did. But the Power & Light team handled every one of those moving pieces with skill.
Enjoying the Privilege
The team that restored the Power & Light Building did many projects together before it and will most likely partner on many more in the future. But projects with the long-lasting, historic impact of this one are few and far between.
“It’s been a great job for us,” says Roger Neighbors, who told his crew to enjoy every moment they got to spend walking the historic Power & Light Building’s halls while they had the chance. “It’s the most signature job we’ve ever done.”
Given those childhood memories of riding the bus into town from Grandview for family shopping trips, Prelogar has similar feelings. “The thing that I remember most,” he says, “was that the streets were full of people. Being able to be part of bringing that kind of vibrancy back to the Downtown was really, really important for me.”
As future generations make their own memories in a Downtown revived by projects like the Power & Light Building restoration, they’ll be doing so because a dedicated group of local businessmen, craftsmen and investors were willing to look beyond challenges that scared other teams away and envision solutions that would return a treasured masterpiece to the people of Kansas City.
According to one estimate, about one-third of all Americans live in apartments. That’s a lot of people living in very close proximity to one another, but traditional apartment construction long focused more on creating individual units than gathering spaces.
These days, to help residents feel more like neighbors, apartment complexes nationwide are putting serious thought into making introductions.
“You could equate it to a very large neighborhood in a condensed space,” says Dawn Cole, community manager at Power & Light Luxury Apartments. “It’s their home and we want our residents to feel comfortable and engaged in the community.”
From Power & Light to other new tower projects Downtown to the many loft residences Kansas City offers, you now find common areas, fitness centers and even cookout facilities—all intended
to help people feel not just at home, but to develop their sense of neighborhood and community. That’s the kind of thing important to not-only residents but to employers who want to offer top talent an attractive lifestyle.
According to Dawn Cole, fostering community happens both inside and outside of the building. In addition to on-site gatherings, she’s seen resident friendships begun at social events her team arranges at nearby locations such as Tom’s Town Distilling Co., Yard House and Hotel President.
“It is important to us that we support local businesses,” she says with pride of her various events and relationships with Kansas City vendors.
The comfortable rooftop Beacon Lounge, which leads to a terrace with 360-degree views of the city.
The lights hanging above the Beacon Lounge bar were once suspended outside to illuminate the tower.
Kansas City Trifecta
Projects collaborated on by NorthPoint Development, Neighbors Construction and NSPJ Architects with the number
of apartment units in each community:
The Retreat at Tiffany Woods: 350
Prairie View Apartments at Village West: 311
The Residences at New Longview: 309
Summit Square Apartments: 308
Village West Apartments: 306
The Residences at Burlington Creek: 298
Forest Avenue Apartments: 292
Power and Light Apartments: 210
Denton II at Burlington Creek: 154
Power and Light North Apartments: 81
Denton I at Burlington Creek: 55
Prairie View at Village West
The Residences at New Longview
The Retreat at Tiffany Woods