Home Sweet (Urban) Home

Union Hill and One Light usher in a wave of new opportunities for Kansas Citians who want to live downtown.

Story By Katy Schamberger  |  Union Hill photos by Jason Dailey

Downtown Kansas City’s transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. Once-vacant buildings, run-down blocks and little pedestrian activity outside of typical business hours have evolved into a thriving mix of commercial and residential development sparked by projects like the Sprint Center, Power & Light District and the Kansas City Streetcar, as well as wildly popular events like First Fridays.

Yet people don’t just want to work in or visit downtown Kansas City—they want to live there, too, a demand that’s fueled a flurry of new residential projects. Consider this your VIP tour. Fair warning: you might just want to move downtown when you’re finished!

A House on the Hill

Perched just south of downtown Kansas City awaits Union Hill, which spans 16 blocks and offers an enticing blend of history and modern construction. And if you thought downtown Kansas City’s revitalization is a compelling story, Union Hill just might top it.

One of Kansas City’s oldest continuous neighborhoods, Union Hill was established in 1857. More recently, the area’s preservation and advancement is credited to local developer Bob Frye, who first proposed his plan for Union Hill’s development in his master’s thesis statement, then soon began buying pieces of land in the neighborhood until he fully bought out Union Hill’s original developer, Jim Young, in the late 1980s.

Now three decades later, Union Hill is thriving, home to an appealing mix of development that includes apartments, condominiums, townhomes, single-family homes and commercial buildings. Two new apartment buildings will soon be added to the mix—the Campbell building, opening in June, and the McCoy Building, scheduled to open in September.

John Price, Union Hill’s leasing director, says Union Hill is now home to approximately 1,200 people, and the waiting list continues to grow.

It’s no wonder Union Hill proves especially popular during the warmer months, when the neighborhood’s mature trees, carefully designed landscaping and walkability are in full splendor.

“People don’t always realize how close Union Hill is to everything,” Price says. “You can walk to First Fridays, Crown Center and Union Station. We have two hotels in the neighborhood, plus more than 30 businesses, including restaurants, bars and retail.”

Events are also popular in the neighborhood, an ideal way to bring both residents and visitors together. Price helped start a Food Truck Friday event last year, which drew more than 300 people to a picnic in an unexpected location.

“We ate in Union Hill cemetery,” Price says. “Not a lot of people can say they’ve done that!”

There’s much about Union Hill that makes it an enticing choice for a variety of residents, but the diverse living options take top honors. A mix of apartments, townhomes and condominiums are available in three styles, each thoughtfully designed and carefully built with convenience and comfort in mind.

The Classic Lifestyle collection includes stone and brick architecture inspired by Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Buildings include Union Hill Place, located near the World War I Memorial and Crown Center; the Michael Diveley Building, Mattie Lykins Bingham Building and Johnston Lykins Building, all part of the Founders community; and M.C. Wood Building townhomes, an ideal blend of affordable urban living with the comfort and features of a full-size home.

For those who covet loft-like features in a more traditional neighborhood setting, Union Hill’s Loft Lifestyle properties include the Allan B.H. McGee Building and, later this year, the John Calvin McCoy Building. You simply have to step inside the McGee Building to see the attention to detail that’s common throughout each Union Hill home. Multicolored LED lights are cleverly placed in the ceiling, welcoming you with a vibrant glow. The contemporary lighting is balanced by the warmth of load-bearing cedar beams and benches made from locally reclaimed wood.

Inside apartments, loft-inspired features like exposed ductwork and open floor plans effortlessly mingle with chrome hardware, serpent-style lighting and spacious kitchens accented with islands. Walk-in pantries offer ample shelving that Price says “justify a Costco trip,” and bathrooms are made more spacious with recessed sinks.

For those who covet luxury, Union Hill delivers. Seven of the neighborhood’s buildings are part of the Platinum Lifestyle collection, inspired by Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. You’ll be greeted by concrete pineapples that top the entrance gate to the Jacob Ragan Building, part of Founders Phase II that also includes the John Taylor and John Campbell buildings. A stone-paved courtyard features exquisite landscaping and a bubbling fountain, which leads into an elegant lobby complete with marble tile floors.

Apartments in the Jacob Ragan Building, part of Union Hill’s Platinum Lifestyle Collection, offer ample storage, gas cooktops and crown molding.

Inside, floor plans are available in several layouts, including studio, one-bedroom with den and two-bedroom. Kitchens are a haven for cooking aficionados, complete with gas cooktops and electric ovens. Interiors are made even more spacious by 9- and 10-foot ceilings and accented with stylish finishing touches like crown molding and wood plank flooring. Several units offer wood-burning fireplaces and outdoor brick terraces, the perfect spot to savor the view over a morning cup of coffee or evening cocktail.

Although Union Hill offers a range of residential developments, all homes share a number of common features including full-size washers and dryers, walk-in closets, personal intrusion systems and parking. And though you might not immediately associate an historic area like Union Hill with state-of-the-art technology, the neighborhood is home to three buildings—the Taylor, Ragan and McGee—that were the first in the world to be built with Google Fiber in the walls, rather than being retrofitted for fiber Internet and television. Additionally, select buildings include Nest thermostats.

Yet history remains a vital part of Union Hill. Look up at the Greenlease Cadillac Building, for example, and you’ll notice Cadillac emblems, reminders of the building’s past as the first Cadillac dealership west of the Mississippi. It’s that sort of thoughtful approach—and Frye’s visionary leadership—that propelled Union Hill into what might be its most successful chapter yet.

Shining Bright

It’s not often that residents lease an apartment without seeing it first, but that’s exactly what happened at One Light Apartments.

“One Light is the fastest project I’ve ever worked on,” says Marnie Sauls, director of residential management. “When we opened [in November 2015] we were 85 percent leased. Now we’re fully occupied. It’s crazy if you think about it—85 percent of people leased sight unseen.”

The soaring glass building occupies a prime piece of land at 13th and Walnut streets, putting residents in the heart of downtown Kansas City. The Power & Light District, Sprint Center, Crossroads Arts District and the Central Business District are all a short stroll away. Plus, One Light residents can get to Cosentino’s Downtown Market and Onelife Fitness without leaving the building, unmatched conveniences that Sauls says “you just can’t duplicate.”

Inside One Light, the sense of luxury is all encompassing, from the stylish, welcoming lobby to the building’s open concept floor plans accented by floor-to-ceiling windows, 9-foot ceilings, quartz kitchen islands and backsplashes and luxury appliances. It’s the windows—and, by extension, the views—that Sauls says contributed to “such high demand. When you think about what makes most people happy where they live, it’s sunlight, those windows and the views.”

Thoughtful finishing touches contribute to that coveted luxury aesthetic, including eye-catching pieces of local art placed throughout the building with help from Weinberger Fine Art Owner and Executive Curator Kim Weinberger. Additional building amenities include a rooftop pool and bar, a business center, nightly rental suites, a wine wall, entertainment kitchen and club room. Those amenities—and a perpetually full activities schedule that includes two monthly residents events—contribute to what Sauls says is one of her favorite things about One Light.

“I think what I love most about the building is the sense of community,” she says. “Typically you don’t get that in an apartment community because you’re more spread out, but One Light residents know each other and the employees.”

As a result of One Light’s incredible popularity, plans have already moved forward to build Two Light, a 24-story tower under construction between Grand Boulevard and Walnut Street. The building is scheduled to open in March 2018 and will include 300 luxury residential units on 18 floors. The remaining six stories will house commercial and parking space. Sauls says the second project offers prospective tenants a wider range of options and a chance to find a home that fits their preferences.

“It just depends on what’s more important to you,” Sauls says. “Do you need a little more square footage? Or do you want the grocery store right there, so you don’t even have to go outside? It makes people stop and think and really prioritize, and no one else offers that in the city.”

Sauls says One Light—and soon, Two Light—filled what had been a gap in the downtown residential market.

“We were missing that luxury lifestyle of being downtown,” she says. “I think other builders are catching on and understanding that residents want to pay more, they want a lifestyle—they will come downtown if we give them the product that they want.”

That said, demand for downtown living is so high that Sauls says there’s room for a variety of residential projects.

“Somebody moves out, somebody moves right back in,” she says. “We haven’t hurt anyone’s business by bringing on these units. Everyone’s still staying full, and that tells you how many people want to live downtown.”