Sunflower Development Group | Historic Cosby Hotel in downtown KC is purchased
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Historic Cosby Hotel in downtown KC is purchased

The Kansas City Star

A year after narrowly dodging a wrecking ball, the historic Cosby Hotel, one of downtown Kansas City’s oldest buildings, has a new owner with a solid record of saving similar structures.

The 130-year-old landmark at Ninth Street and Baltimore Avenue was 24 hours from demolition last summer when an article in The Kansas City Star about its dire state prompted historic preservationists to rally on its behalf.

A severe winter coupled with a wet spring had undermined its brick facade to the point the city had declared it a dangerous building requiring immediate demolition.

But a “Save the Cosby” Facebook campaign that enlisted hundreds of downtown residents and preservationists persuaded the city to give the old hotel a second chance. It turned out that $4,000 was enough to shore up a crumbling corner and buy time.

Now, thanks to a dogged effort led by the Downtown Council, a firm called Sunflower Development Group has bought the three-story building from Rick Powell. Sunflower’s principals are Jason Swords and Lon Booher, both experienced in renovating old properties.

"What’s amazing to me is how much of the historic fabric is still intact,” Booher said. "When you look at the character that’s there and what it could be, we think we can take this on and have an amazing building."

At the time it was completed in 1881 the building, originally called the Woods Building, was a pioneering structure as Kansas City grew beyond its riverbank roots and expanded into what became its modern downtown. It originally housed several prominent physicians, including Martha Dibble, one of Kansas City’s first female
doctors. It was converted to a hotel by Joseph Cosby in 1899.

It’s part of the Ninth Street Historic District, a group of 19th-century buildings listed with the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. Among them is the 1890 New York Life building, which is Kansas City’s first skyscraper and the new home of the Catholic Diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City.

The upper floors of the Cosby were closed in 1964, and the building was completely vacated when Lane Blueprint left in 1995.

Scott Lane, president of the Historic Kansas City Foundation, praised the sale and said the Cosby was an important part of the historic district.

"That’s fantastic news,” he said. “I was hoping someone would step forward. The best way to save any building is having a sensitive and capable owner. There’s a great ensemble in that area, and this will complete it."

As part of the purchase agreement, Sunflower has 120 days to repair crumbling mortar, replace the roof and install windows matching the historic originals. That work is expected to cost about $300,000. In the meantime the partners will apply for state and federal historic tax credits and seek an amendment to a tax-increment financing plan approved in 2005. Powell got that TIF to help redevelop the adjoining historic Union Carbide and LaRue buildings.

The 11-story Union Carbide is now fully leased as apartments, and the three-story LaRue houses a business. Powell welcomed the purchase of the Cosby Hotel by Sunflower and supported reassigning part of the tax incentives. The TIF Commission will have to approve the deal before it takes effect.

Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development for the Downtown Council, said his organization of business and property owners was pleased that a capable new owner had been found for the Cosby after a long search.

"The Downtown Council’s goal is to create a vibrant downtown, and we want density, not parking lots,” he said. “There are very few 1880s buildings left. When the call went out, a lot of folks in the historic preservation community called and said, ‘You have to do something.

City Manager Troy Schulte and his chief lieutenant for downtown matters, Rick Usher, also worked hard to save the building and cooperate in making the transaction happen, O’Byrne said.

Swords estimated it would cost $2.8 million for the entire project. The plan calls for the first floor to be retail and the upper two floors to be office space. He said Booher, who also has an architectural firm called Studio C, has partnered with him on several other projects including the renovation of buildings at 1520 and 1531 Grand Blvd.
Swords also is involved with the pending redevelopment of a building at 1111 Grand Blvd. that’s slated to be a

“Lon and I have been looking for other projects, and Sean brought this project to us and helped us work with the city,” he said. “We like historic buildings. That’s what we do.”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to © 2011 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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