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The quaint, blue building at 4454 State Line could easily be another storefront of forgotten treasures. Marcus owns the building, and he'd planned to make it just that. But the basement became the headquarters for his startup. Then, in November 2012, Leap2, maker of a mobile-app search engine, moved into the house's ground floor. Barreth's Hacker House opened six doors north in November. A half-block south, business incubator Pipeline, eye-recognition-application company EyeVerify and two other startups moved into the building at 1911 West 45th Street.
"Next thing you know, you have a village," Marcus says.
Local Ruckus now shares the basement work space with FormZapper, an online paperwork depository. It was joined at the same time by Rivet Creative, a design, marketing and advertising firm. They came to be part of the first nonresidential space connected to Google Fiber, which went live last November.
Local Ruckus founder Adam Arredondo, 28, says the village's growth has been remarkably coincidental. "Three startup properties came to be in the first neighborhood in the world to get Google Fiber, within half a block of each other with no planning," he says.
For the village to grow, Marcus says, it's time to court local corporations to buy houses, paint them in their colors and open innovation centers. He envisions a Sprint home, a Garmin home, a Hallmark home.
"If we could get them to have a home down here," Marcus says, "I think that would be so powerful."
Ben Barreth, 34, is stripping beds and replacing the sheets inside his Hacker House on a mid-April Monday.
In November, Barreth bought the gray two-story house at 4428 State Line, not to live in but to offer to startups for three months of rent-free housing and access to Google Fiber.
"People usually ask me why I'm doing it," he says. "I really believe in Kansas City. I believe in the startup scene."
Barreth, with a curly blond widow's peak and dark-rimmed glasses, throws a pile of dirty sheets into the passenger seat of his red Toyota Echo and moves on to the next task, attaching a door to the house's fuse box. He opens the outside basement door, revealing a crumbling set of 2-foot-wide stairs, and descends into the musty, damp cellar.
His original project, Homes for Hackers, was meant to enlist homeowners with Google Fiber who would be willing to let startup founders live with them rent-free while working on their companies. But getting potential volunteer homeowners hooked up to Fiber would take a year. Barreth didn't want to wait. Last September, he joked with his wife about buying a house in the first neighborhood to get Fiber.
"I remember telling her, 'Hey, honey, what if we just bought a house?' " Barreth says. "We both laughed. It was a stupid idea. That was Wednesday morning. Saturday, we found this house. Sunday, we put an offer in on it. We closed on Halloween."
Barreth's Hacker House functions mostly as a crash pad for people interested in trying Fiber and peeping Kansas City's startup scene. One of the bedrooms is available for rent on airbnb.com for $49 a night, while others are used by visitors who arrange stays through Barreth. The rent covers about half of the home's mortgage and utilities, which total $850 a month.
Barreth says the village is in a state of constant change. He says five new startups are scheduled to move into Hacker House May 31. Being a part of the Startup Village has made him comfortable with the ebbs and flows of startups looking to come to town, although he was a little worried a month ago.