The luxury apartment buildings keep going up, but who is going to fill those units at the rent levels we’re seeing today?
I first arrived In Kansas City some time ago, happily just a few years after the native hunter-gatherers had subdued the last of the woolly mammoths. What I found here surprised me, in a good way.
I marveled at the large swaths of neighborhood in the middle of the city peopled largely by Baby Boomers like myself. I remember driving south from Downtown for miles along Gillham Road, watching in total surprise as bunches of young people threw Frisbees, played softball, rode bikes, smoked controlled substances.
In my hometown of Newark, N.J., as in most eastern cities, there were no such neighborhoods. Once you left Downtown Newark in just about any direction, you pushed the button down on your car door, said an Act of Contrition, and looked for the nearest interstate ramp.
Not so in Possum Trot. Kansas City worked as a city then, and it works as a city today. Still, save for a vestigial hippie or two, the Boomers have abandoned just about all those old Midtown neighborhoods.
Some have circled back into high-rise condos, but almost none stayed in place. Despite their early protestations, the Boomers, by and large, did indeed grow up to become their parents. Those same young people who marched on the Pentagon, got naked at Woodstock, and went “clean for Gene” lit out for the suburbs long ago and voted decisively for Donald Trump in 2016.
Fortunately, the old Midtown neighborhoods they abandoned remain viable today, and for the most part it is Millennials who inhabit them.
There are a lot of Millennials. It is hard to avoid them.
The noisiest and most visible generation since the Baby Boomers, Millennials also inhabit row after row of newish multi-family units in the Crossroads District, Downtown, the River Market, up and down Main Street, Gillham, Charlotte and even Troost. As happy as I am to see this revival, I have to ask myself—is there an unlimited supply of Millennials or are we about to run out?
Having an office in Westport, I get to see Millennials in their native habitat. To be fair, they are much less obnoxious than they appear in TV commercials and are no more politically obtuse than we were at their age. Less violent as well. Unlike my “boomer” peers who thought their generational name destined them to make bombs, Millennials do most of their terrorizing on Twitter and Instagram.
What I wonder about Millennials is whether they also will grow up to become their parents. Real-estate developers seem to be betting they won’t. A test case will be The Opus Group’s new six-story, mixed-use apartment project across from my office at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway Boulevard.
I have been sidewalk-superintending this project for the last year or so. With my able oversight, the builders have been plugging away and seem poised to make their spring 2020 deadline. The ground level retail is reportedly attracting tenants, but the 256 rental units are what I worry about.
I may miss my guess, but I suspect few Boomers will elect to spend their golden years at the corner of Westport and Broadway. To
succeed, the developers will have to attract a younger clientele—a younger and wealthier clientele, as the units are billed as “luxury.” The 256 units translates, I imagine, into somewhere around 350 people. Again, I feel obliged to ask the question: are
there enough Millennials to go around?
If there are enough, that raises another question. Can Westport—or any neighborhood—survive them? As a case in point, these new residents are expected to help “revitalize” Westport Road between Broadway and Main Street.
It remains to be seen what revitalization looks like. I know, however, what this neighborhood looks like un-revitalized as my office sits in the middle of it. For the 15 or so years I have been here, this three block stretch has found the delicate, if not exactly golden, mean between gentrification and decay.
Looking out my office window, I can see more unique, independently owned enterprises than I could find on the length of 119th Street in Johnson County. I do not exaggerate.
My office, for instance, sits atop a video store. Is there another such store left in America? I have no idea what its business model looks like. I am afraid to ask. If a video shop sounds quaint, there is a record store around the corner.
Moving east is a homey little barber shop, striped pole and all, which still calls itself a “barber shop.” Next to that is a vintage clothing store. Next to that is “Sheila’s Grinders.” Lest anyone get the wrong impression, a grinder is a long roll split to make a sandwich, ideally with meat-balls. Next to that is a sluggish old Post Office branch that proudly honors all the stereotypes associated with the Post Office, and beyond that a library that caters largely to the homeless.
I could almost live my life in this three-block stretch. There is a church across the street, a hookah lounge, a gym, a vape shop, a tattoo parlor, a couple of hair salons, a consignment clothing store, a shop that makes frames, a hardware store for cooks, a flower shop, an urban potter, Camp Bow Wow for dogs, the Corner Restaurant, and, of course, the wonderfully seamy Davey’s Stage Coach Lounge.
There is no franchise-anything in sight. Even Starbucks got run out of the neighborhood. That said, neighborhoods like this are fragile things. Eventually, they go one way or another—to use a New Jersey model: either the booming, Millennialized Hoboken or the mean, shriveling Newark.
Having experienced the dark side of “shrivel,” I have to cast my lot with the Millennials. Bring them on. It would be great if they did not wear nose rings or vote before they turned 40, but every city needs them. Here’s hoping we don’t run out.