ROB ROBERTS | KCBJ
A partnership led by Ted Ehney Jr. plans to redevelop this tower and attached annex at 601 Minnesota Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., into a mixed-use property.
Ted Ehney Jr., who was involved in the development of two of downtown Kansas City’s largest skyscrapers before running afoul of the law, now is focusing on the revitalization of downtown Kansas City, Kan.
Kansas City Kansas Properties LLC, a partnership Ehney leads, has acquired the seven-story office tower at 601 Minnesota Ave. from UMB Bank and plans to redevelop it as a mixed-use project.
Ehney said the 60,000-square-foot office tower and an adjoining two-story, 15,000-square-foot annex, which his partnership also acquired, are vacant except for UMB, which has a branch on the ground floor of the tower.
Despite its relatively modern exterior look, the tower was built around 1925, and Ehney said plans call for restoring the original architecture hidden behind the current facade. As part of an effort to win historic tax credits for the project, he said, Joy Coleman of Treanor Architects has been retained to help get the building placed on the National Historic Register.
Ehney does not yet have an estimated project cost to share, he said, “but we’re beginning to get an idea that it’s not cheap.”
The redevelopment effort, which Ehney characterized as “a two-plus-year project,” is aimed at revitalizing the property with ground-floor restaurant space (in the annex if UMB decides to remain in the tower), 25 market-rate apartments and a limited amount of office space.
“I think it’ll be a little jewel and a catalyst for what can be a really neat area,” Ehney said.
Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said he is hopeful that projects like Ehney’s will help attract entrepreneurial businesses outgrowing Kansas City Startup Village to the city’s downtown area, which has been served by Google Fiber since February.
Kindle was speaking over coffee at Cup on the Hill, a new tenant in the building at 730 Minnesota Ave. — one of two neighboring structures that Lamar Hunt Jr. is redeveloping through his partnership, Loretto Properties LLC. Like his project will be, Ehney said, the coffee shop is a “cool” addition to downtown KCK.
“I think once projects like this start moving forward and more amenities are afforded to the people considering moving to the area, it will cause them to say, ‘Hey, this is OK; this is cool,'” Ehney said. “People like being around cool stuff.”
Ehney wouldn’t rule out pursuing further projects in downtown KCK, which has yet to share in the economic prosperity being experienced in western Wyandotte County. But he isn’t committing himself to more, either.
“We’re going to do this like they catch elephants — one at a time,” Ehney said.
Meanwhile, however, Ehney said he plans to revive another elephant called Seabiscuit Park in the Northland, where he was developing Executive Hills North when his development empire began to crumble a quarter of a century ago.
In 1990, foreclosure ended Ehney’s ownership of more than $50 million worth of office, office-warehouse and retail buildings in Executive Hills North, which is near Kansas City International Airport. Ehney pleaded guilty to defrauding lenders the following year and was sentenced to 24 months in prison in 1994. He served half of that term.
In 2008, Ehney announced that he was taking another run at the Northland development market with a project near KCI called Seabiscuit Park. Plans called for nearly 1 million square feet of offices, hotels and restaurants on property Ehney’s Seabiscuit Park LLC bought in 2005.
Nearby, Ehney had made his first attempt at a Northland comeback in 2004, when 11500 LLC, a partnership he was part of, bought the former Trans World Airlines administrative center at 11500 N.W. Ambassador Drive. Soon after the TWA building’s purchase was financed with an $18 million loan from Columbian Bank and Trust Co., Ehney said, “We’re going to take a landmark structure and bring it back” via about $6 million in upgrades.
But 11500 LLC bought out Ehney’s stake in the building in 2005, and the partnership lost the building after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized Columbian Bank and Trust in 2008. The FDIC subsequently auctioned off the $18 million note secured by the building, and the Kauffman Foundation acquired the property through a $9 million bid and foreclosure proceedings.
Ehney said he still controls the 18-acre Seabiscuit Park site, which is southwest of interstates 29 and 435.
“I was able to get it zoned some time back, of course with plans to move forward at that time,” Ehney said. “But then the recession came so we, like so many others, were required to put our project on hold. Now, we’re revisiting the previously approved plan, and there’s some new and current things we’re going to try to take advantage of. It will be a typical type of project that you would see around airports.”
Asked when Seabiscuit Park might get out of the gate, the 68-year-old developer said, “I would love to say within a year, but it will probably be longer.”
But even when he errs on the side of conservatism, Ehney knows his claims will be questioned by some, given his record. Here’s what he said about that:
“Obviously, that (jail sentence) was 20 years ago. I believe if one tries to do the right thing and treats others as he’d like to be treated, it begins to show people (he’s changed). Second chances are a fabulous thing; I can’t think of anyone in life who hasn’t been given a second chance.”
Ehney, who characterized himself as “very persistent and a God-fearing person,” was born and raised in Texas. He came to Kansas City and established Executive Hills Inc. here in the mid-1970s and after his prison term reportedly settled in California. But Ehney said he now lives in Kansas City and has for decades. He just doesn’t like to be seen around town.
“Believe it or not, I am very nonsocial,” Ehney said. “I’m not rude about it. I just don’t like attending social things and being recognized. Unfortunately, my career has caused that to be somewhat different, plus I’m an old guy now.”