Over 50 people attended a Sept. 26 meeting to hear plans for the proposed Waldo74Broadway project. // Photo by Tyler Schneider

Will Waldo stay weird?

Six-story apartment project draws plenty of input from neighbors

By Tyler Schneider

Residents and stakeholders turned out in droves to a Monday evening community input meeting concerning the proposed Waldo74Broadway Development Project that will occupy the block between W. 74th St. and W. 74th Ter. and between Broadway St. and Wyandotte St.

With the parking lot of the Ward Parkway Presbyterian Church at capacity, and over 100 people attending either in-person or virtually, Chris and Andy Lewellen, owners of The Well, presented their vision for the six-story, 300-unit apartment project that would sit atop The Well and additional ground-level retail space. 

“In the last 20 years, there really hasn’t been a major development in Waldo. If you think about it, every other neighborhood in the entire Kansas City has had a [major] development of some kind. Why haven’t they come and invested in Waldo? Nobody has really come out and invested a significant amount of dollars in our neighborhood,” Chris Lewellen told those in attendance.

The Lewellen brothers, who also own Lew’s Grill & Bar in Waldo and Charlie Hooper’s Bar and Grille in Brookside, decided that they wanted to be the ones to do so. 

“During those times when we were opening our restaurants, we were taking our profits and investing them in real estate—about 95 percent was in Waldo. We knew that Waldo was kind of on the upswing. We wanted to also protect our interests around The Well, too,” Chris Lewellen said.

A five-year process, delayed by Covid, led to the selection of EPC Real Estate, based out of Overland Park, to develop the project. 

Chris Lewellen said the criteria for selecting EPC as the firm for the project came down to three key requirements: they are a local firm, are nationally recognized, and “finish what they start.”

Lewellen then gave the floor to EPC Vice-President Austin Bradley and the firm’s project executive, Jeremy Tinkler. 

“We’re coming into a highly desirable area, introducing density, which is elevating the area as a whole. We’re not looking to change Waldo at all, we’re looking to add to the amazing character that Waldo already has,” Bradley said, before Tinkler outlined the plans on the projector. 

The room was then opened up for questions from 7:30 to 7:55 p.m. 

A great many of the initial questions from residents concerned the developer’s desire to seek a 20-year, 75 percent property tax abatement from RideKC through its new START (Sustaining Transportation and Investing Together) program.

“A 20-year tax abatement, with no affordable housing? How does that happen?” one resident asked.

Bradley replied that the project would not be possible without the abatement. 

“We’re incorporating aspects into the building that wouldn’t be incorporated were it strictly a market-rate development,” Tinkler added, though the specifics on what that would all entail are still in flux. 

Waldo resident Drew Rogers offered one of the more memorable moments in the Q&A session.

“I have a vested interest in this community, this is where I plan to be for the rest of my life. I’m okay with the five stories, and six stories. I think the density could be a positive for Waldo. I may be in the minority in this room on that,” Rogers said. “I just want more weird Waldonians to keep it weird.”

Rogers added that he does have some concerns with the project, however.

“I do have a problem with tax incentives. I understand it’s not 100 percent. My question is: was [the project] even penciled without the abatement?”

“Absolutely, it was. We have been working with Chris and Andy [Lewellen] and the team for over a year on penciling concepts, and that’s what’s led to today. We’ve started over 100 different scenarios to get to this point. So there’s a lot of thought and background here that went into this,” Bradley replied. 

Others expressed concern about schooling and children’s safety. Hale Cook Elementary is one nearby school that could be impacted by the scale of the project. 

A key exchange on this came late in the session, courtesy of KCPS representative Kathleen Pointer.

“This would be one of the first projects since I’ve been doing this job for four years where we haven’t heard from the development team before the project goes forward asking for significant school district revenues. You know, 70 percent of our budget is property tax dollars, so those dollars are very important,” Pointer said.

Pointer asked Bradley if there were any plans to bring in a third party to conduct a financial analysis that would be shared with the school district—to this, many residents in the room applauded.

“That is a requirement of other incentive tools. At this time, that has not been asked of us. If it is, then we’re happy to require that,” Bradley replied. 

“The school district is asking you for that,” Pointer said.

“We’ll be happy to have that conversation,” Bradley said.

Another resident, B. Michael McFarland, originally from the San Francisco area, said he’d seen a lot of similar, high-density projects go up there which also included affordable housing options.

“I know you don’t have to do affordable housing because the incentives that you’re getting don’t require it. I would ask you to consider it because of teachers, who we all know make an abysmal amount of money. Perhaps a Hale Cook teacher could move in there if there was some affordable housing,” McFarland said.

Bradley and Tinkler again stressed that the plan is still in the “early stages,” and that they would take the community’s feedback as they go forward in the city’s development process. The pair stuck around to address additional questions after the meeting officially ended. 

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