Published August 17th, 2021 at 12:35 PM
Greater downtown Kansas City’s population jumped 29.4% over the last decade to 27,831 residents, according to the 2020 Census, thanks in part to people like Jessica Best.
“We’ve lived in the Western Auto building for eight years and we’ve loved how the Crossroads has grown up around us,” said Best, a 39-year-old employee at Barkley advertising.
“I live, work, play, eat, walk–everything downtown. I can walk to work, walk to a restaurant with a James Beard Award-winning chef and walk to 17 coffee shops.
“Everything we need is here.”
The new Census results showed significantly faster growth downtown versus Kansas City as a whole, which increased 10.4% to 508,000 residents, and gives advocates reason to believe downtown is on the cusp of attracting new retailers, including a much-desired urban Target.
“We absolutely have the population they’re interested in,” said Tommy Wilson, who handles business recruitment for the Downtown Council.
“I think Target is looking at downtown because we have 28,000-30,000 residents plus visitors and office workers.”
The census results released last week were about 10% off the estimate the Downtown Council projected for last year, 31,000, and the population has likely grown significantly since the census was taken more than a year ago.
Since April 2020, several new apartment projects have opened downtown, including Artistry KC, City Club and REVERB, and more projects are under construction or in the pipeline such as the 321-unit Three Light tower which broke ground last month
At 27,831 residents, greater downtown had about the same number of residents as Gladstone.
Greater downtown is defined by the Downtown Council as including the River Market, West Bottoms, Columbus Park, the Central Business District (CBD), Crossroads, Westside, Crown Center, Union Hill and Hospital Hill neighborhoods.
The CBD counted 9,743 residents alone in 2020, thanks in part to new apartment projects like Two Light developed in the Power & Light District by the Cordish Co., and the renovation of older office buildings into residential projects.
“We have believed in downtown a long time, and we continue to make large scale investments in creating more opportunities for people to have a downtown living experience,” said John Moncke, the new president of the Power & Light District.
“We are seeing tremendous demand for the downtown lifestyle at One Light and Two Light, and we expect this to continue.
“That’s why we are working hard on continuing to improve the overall downtown experience, and we have just broken ground on Three Light. There is a lot more to come.”
Bill Dietrich, president and CEO of the Downtown Council, was pleased with the Census results. His organization’s goal is to push the greater downtown population to 40,000.
“Having that residential population enabled us to weather the COVID pandemic better,” Dietrich said.
“What we’re hearing from residents is they feel good and like where they are. People are feeling comfortable. When you come downtown, it gives you more comfort seeing people are living here and frequenting businesses.”
Christopher McKinney, 32, and his wife, Lana, moved to an apartment in the historic Power & Light Building in 2020. Since then, they’ve added a five-month-old baby girl, Selah.
“My wife and I were spending quite a bit of money traveling from Zona Rosa to work downtown and we also spent a lot of our leisure time here so we decided to move” said McKinney, who works for the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.
“It’s so walkable and there are lots of things to do.”
Garret McBay, 23, moved to an apartment in the 21 Ten building in the Library Lofts District from the San Francisco area earlier this year after accepting a job offer from VMLY&R.
“The location was good, the price wasn’t awful and it was available,” he said. “I like living downtown because of the availability of everything and having the streetcar being in front of my place is nice.”
A recent survey of downtown residents by the Downtown Council found 92% of the 830 residents were either satisfied or very satisfied with their choice. What would make it better, they said, was more shopping options and places to take their pets.
The Downtown Council estimates millennials make up about 52% of the downtown population followed by Gen X, 17%; baby boomers, 16%; and Gen Z, 12%.
Jon Copaken, a former president of the Downtown Council and a principal at Copaken Brooks, is excited about downtown pushing over 28,000 residents. His firm has developed two apartment projects in the Crossroads, ARTerra and REVERB.
“Twenty years ago, I’d guess we had 7,000 or 8,000 residents,” he said. “This bodes very well, but we still have to keep the gas on for more residential development and density.
“We need to get to that 40,000 figure to feed the energy we want around here.”
Copaken agreed that downtown is poised for more retail, including the “junior box” category that urban Targets fall under.
“The numbers are at the place where those people are snooping around and becoming interested in what’s going on,” he said.
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues. Liam Dai contributed to this report.