A developer plans to revive the former Katz Drug Store and add a six-story apartment building to the historic Westport structure.

California-based Lux Living submitted plans this week to City Hall to completely remake the iconic building at Westport Road and Main Street. The old drug store facade will keep its hallmark curves, but a 68-foot structure will rise behind it to house 192 new apartments.

Plans call for the existing old drug store building to house the apartments’ common spaces and amenities, including a rooftop pool overlooking Main Street. The new apartment tower would sit over a 175-car parking garage.

The redevelopment plans come as investors see huge potential across Midtown ahead of the nearly four-mile southern expansion of the Kansas City Streetcar.

California developer Victor Alston, who owns Lux Living, said the project could cost between $50 million and $70 million. He said it was too early to tell whether he would request public economic development incentives.
The specific design will be finalized once the city weighs in on the proposal and a requested rezoning of the site, he said.

“It’s a difficult project and challenging to get the economics to work in that type of space,” Alston said. “But I think if we can figure it out, people will enjoy the reuse of that Katz space.”

He said the market-rate apartments will range from studios to two-bedroom units.

“They’ll be luxury, high-end, but I wouldn’t say the very top of the market,” Alston said. “Maybe a notch below that. We’re generally trying to provide good value.”

Alston, who is also developing apartments in the Crossroads Arts District, said he liked the Westport neighborhood. But he was drawn to the specific site because of the streetcar stops planned near that intersection.

After talking with the neighborhood, he said it was clear that residents didn’t want to see the Katz Drug Store building go. He said some of the amenities in that part of the project may be open to the public.

“Everybody really wanted to preserve the building,” he said. “So we are providing a proposal to preserve the building and still activate it.”

Kevin Klinkenberg, who runs the nonprofit community and economic development agency Midtown KC Now, said he’s excited to see a new proposal for the unique building. But he acknowledged that some Westport residents may not like the imposing six-story structure.

“It’s a much beloved building. I think people are very excited to see the site developed and reused,” he said. “Now, are we going to have unanimous agreement about scale and size? Probably not.”

The offices for Midtown KC Now sit just north of the Katz building in one of the low-rising storefronts along Main Street. Klinkenberg said he believes the addition of 200 apartments to the area will help the ongoing revitalization of Midtown since thousands of residents left the area decades ago.

“It’s a key site,” he said. “This whole area from 38th to 40th on Main has long been called the downtown of Midtown. And it’s seen some pretty hard times over the years. It’s exciting to see interest in repopulating this area again.”

The developer recently met with neighbors to share plans for the site.

Doris Yonker, an officer in the Heart of Westport Neighborhood Association, said she liked the renderings that seemed to honor the heritage of the nearly 100-year-old building by keeping the clock tower in place and restoring the glass storefront.

“It just looked wonderful,” she said. “My main thing was to preserve the building.”

But, she said the six-story tower may stand out in the historic neighborhood. Likewise, some of the modern finishes proposed for the exterior would stand in stark contrast to the old brick buildings in that area, she said.

“Standing on that corner up there is the highest point, if you think about it, of this entire area,” she said. “So if you put a six-story building up there that’s going to look very strange.”

In a letter to the developer earlier this month, the neighborhood association said it did not oppose new projects, but cited ongoing development pressures that could threaten Westport’s historic character. It also raised concerns about the height and decor of the building, along with traffic and parking issues.

But architects will work to highlight the historic building and complement it with the new structure, said Kevin Berman, a partner at Leawood-based Hoefer Wysocki, which is designing the project. He said the design was not finalized and that the developer is still examining ways to make the Katz building available to the public.

Built in 1934, the drug store was the first major work of architect Clarence Kivett, according to Historic Kansas City. Kivett also designed Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City International Airport and what is now the Intercontinental hotel.

Last year, Historic Kansas City put the Katz building on its Most Endangered list, warning that it could be demolished. That group has not yet reviewed plans for the redevelopment, officials said.

For years, Redeemer Fellowship church has owned the property. It operated The Drugstore, an artist incubator in the space, but rising maintenance costs pushed the church to put the property on the market last year, The Pitch reported.

Church leaders could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.