It’s been a part of the downtown Kansas City skyline for over 75 years, but until recently the inside of the Kansas City Power & Light building was empty, leaving its historic features neglected and decaying. Now, however, the building has a new life as an upscale residential apartment building that preserves the building’s history. The project consists of two pieces: a 34-story tower built in 1931, and a new building to the north, on what had previously been at various points a power plant, a gas station, and, most recently, a parking lot.
The tower was originally built at 106 West 14th Street in downtown Kansas City as the headquarters for the Kansas City Power & Light Company, and for almost fifty years it was the tallest building in Missouri. It is considered a prime example of Art Deco architecture in the United States. In 1991, KCP&L moved their headquarters, and the tower was left almost completely empty for 25 years.
When NorthPoint Development announced its plans to renovate the space into a high-end residential building, we knew it would be unlike any other project in Kansas City. The building’s storied history, architectural significance, and physical location required a design that was truly special. We were lucky enough to work with a developer whose vision we shared for how to bring new life to this local gem.
In order to preserve the historical significance of the building while also making it an attractive living space for modern tenants, we needed to do a complete walkthrough and determine what elements could be safely salvaged and repaired, and what would need to be replaced.
The historic tower was in relatively good condition when we were hired by NorthPoint Development to design the renovation and a new addition. The structure was very solid, and most floors still held their finishes from earlier tenants. Walking through the floors was like walking through a time warp in the building from one floor to the next.
We discovered that although in some locations, tenant improvements had completely replaced areas of historic significance, there were areas where the tenant improvements were simply installed over the original finishes. In those instances, we were able to re-expose the historic finishes and refurbish them to a modern shine. In locations where that wasn’t possible, we had to reconstruct or adapt and overcome with new modern finishes that complemented the historic finishes on other floors.
All of the historic elevator lobbies have been retained in their original form, and the original mail chute was kept on every floor. The marble wainscoting has been repaired and polished. The terrazzo floors have been re-polished to a high shine and existing plaster has been repaired and painted. The spaces were finished with new chandeliers, referencing the building’s original 21-foot lighting display. The original building included a gym and auditorium, but over the years those had been removed previous owners and tenants; however, the wood gym floor remained.
The biggest challenge NSPJ faced on this project was working with the existing conditions of the building, some of which included prior well-meaning “improvements” to the building that had to be removed or modified. The demolition phase revealed many conditions that were previously unknown, requiring us to remain flexible throughout the entire construction project with our plans.
Fortunately, we have extensive experience with historical renovations and rehabilitations. We were prepared that with this building’s existing concrete structure, we would be juggling the fine line of working within existing structural depth and maximizing available ceiling height to make the most of the large windows we had. We’ve worked to maximize the ceiling height in every possible place throughout the building where we are against glass. Because the nature of the concrete structure also limits where you can place plumbing fixtures, we needed to maintain the delicate balance of drilling through the concrete slabs for drains and avoiding adjacent concrete structural beams.
We needed to be resilient and flexible, but the success of the project also required great coordination and trust between the design and construction teams. As we worked through construction of the building from the top down, we were able to develop a set of rules for when different conditions occurred such as existing (retained) walls or original columns not being “exactly” where we had understood them to be from the original drawings. For example, on the very first floor, where we began new construction, one column line of the building was off by almost twelve inches from what the original construction drawings for the building showed. Without our deep bench of experience with historic projects, these kind of challenges could have unseated the project completely. Because we were prepared to be flexible, we were able to keep the project on track.
The renovated tower includes 210 units ranging in size from studio to 1-bedroom, 1-bedroom plus den, and 2-bedroom. These units feature engineered hardwood flooring, sound transmission reducing drywall to make the units quieter, and large rooftop terraces in select units.
Connected to the historic tower by a new glass skybridge is the new addition (“Power & Light North”). It consists of 81 units ranging from studio to 2-bedroom, wrapped around and over a 500-stall parking garage. All units in the North building feature luxury vinyl plank flooring, private outdoor space, and a specialized long, linear unit design that faces Baltimore Street, allowing for up to 65′ of street frontage in select individual units. Some North building units will also have direct access from the parking garage.
Units in both buildings will feature large, open floor plans with large windows (some as large as 5’ x 7’) or storefront glass; extra-height upper kitchen cabinets; stacked, in-unit washer and dryer; white marble countertops with waterfall island ends and matching backsplashes; stainless steel appliances; large closets; and Nest thermostats.
Residents of both buildings can enjoy the Beacon Lounge, on the 31st floor of the historic tower. Featuring a 360-degree roof deck and a 10-foot long electric fireplace, the Lounge offers residents breathtaking views of Kansas City in a luxury setting. The Lounge bar also includes three chandeliers crafted from exterior light fixtures from the original building.
Additional amenities available to both buildings are a screening room with a wine cooler and individual wine lockers, a meditation area, massage and tanning rooms, a spa with a hot tub and a dry sauna, and a fitness room. Residents can also enjoy the rooftop saltwater pool, complete with cabanas and loungers.
The first floor of the original building includes a highly detailed, two-story atrium that originally functioned as a KCP&L retail space. That has been retained, and is currently undergoing separate preservation and renovation efforts to become a top-of-the line, 500-seat event space for downtown Kansas City. The large display windows for this space will contribute added visual interest and vitality to West 14th Street.
“Restoring Power & Light: Old meets new in apartments,” Kansas City Business Journal, July 15, 2016
“Get an early sneak peek at Power & Light Building’s luxury living [PHOTOS],” Kansas City Business Journal, July 13, 2016
“A look inside the renovation of Kansas City’s historic KCP&L tower,” Kansas City Business Journal, July 7, 2016