"I caught the wind."
The manager of the Hobbs Building has been waiting, standing at the loading dock. He's used to this.
The wind has just pulled up in a black Ford F-150, 20 minutes late. The truck's front fender curls like a cartoon villain's mustache. The engine coughs like a coal miner.
The wind steps out of the vehicle, 133 pounds in a Lewis Library T-shirt and carpenter pants.
Adam Jones breezes into the West Bottoms building, which he co-owns with Jeff Krum, CFO of Boulevard Brewing Co. The Hobbs is the seven-story centerpiece of Jones' three decades spent remaking — often with his own hands — buildings and even whole blocks in the West Bottoms, the West Side and the Crossroads.
On the upper floors are 40 art studios, and on the lower floors, a series of high-profile nonprofit nameplates: Ripple Glass, Make It Right, Bridging the Gap, Metropolitan Energy Center. The first floor has been transformed into an event space.
"When we moved down here, it was no man's land," Jones, 53, says of the building he bought with Krum in 1997. "Now, the city has advanced socially and culturally. People understand this place is a lot better and are willing to take risks."
Developer Wayne Reeder is spending $30 million to redevelop three buildings, including a nine-story property at 933 Mulberry that he wants to turn into nearly 200 apartments. The Missouri Department of Transportation replaced the 12th Street bridge viaduct in July. The sidewalks and curbs in front of the Hobbs are among the dozens of blocks bettered by newly poured concrete.
So what does Jones, who has spent his career bringing properties back from the edge, do when he finds that the edge has moved to the middle?
He goes off the map.
Jones points north, past Ninth Street, past a line of trucks steaming by the Woodsweather Café, past the blocks of antique vendors that used to be distributors and warehouses, and the blocks that still hold working distributors and warehouses.
On a forgotten strip of land between the Missouri River and Interstate 70, Jones is developing his concept of what could be Kansas City's first food hub. With poles in the East and West Bottoms and the City Market at the center of what he calls his "food trail," he envisions a network of food producers, supplying restaurants and consumers with sustainable produce, fish, meat and sundries.
"Bells are tolling in our area," Jones says. "Has the city figured it out all yet? No. That's what guys like me do."
On the last Thursday morning in August, Jones slides behind the wheel of his black truck. Mardi Gras beads sway from the rearview mirror as he cranks down his window. He steers up 17th Street toward the West Side, his hands rolling over the wheel like he's helming a boat as he turns onto Summit.
"It was wilder than hell up here on top of the hill," he says. "There were thieves and bad guys and old gandies and nasty vacant lots."
Gandies — that's what he calls the old drunks who occupied the former rooming house that has been his home since he graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1982. It's where he and Noori, his wife of 31 years and a fellow KCAI graduate, raised their son, Navid.
"Good to see you working here. I love it," Jones tells a laborer in overalls who has come to look at a banister on the rental property he owns across the street. Jones pops out of the car and grabs two apples from the trees that he keeps on a lot on the south side of his home.