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Today, the northwest corner of 75th and Washington is anchored by a modern, two-story structure. Remedy, a gastropub, and Coffee Girl's Café are the ground-floor tenants; a beauty salon, an investment company, and a video-graphics marketing firm reside upstairs. "The demographics of the neighborhood are changing," Botwin says. "My feeling is that if I keep renovating and keep my buildings moving forward, there's going to be demand for that in Waldo."
The Waldo neighborhood has historically been a haven for young families buying their first homes. But home ownership isn't such a viable option for many people in their 20s and 30s, an age group that is renting longer than previous generations. That, combined with Waldo's increased visibility, has convinced Botwin that the area is ripe for new apartments.
"It'll be a building with 14 small, one-bedroom apartments," Botwin says about a vacant lot at 76th and Washington. "Hopefully the apartments will have a wonderful aesthetic appeal — lean and mean but with sustainable amenities, nice landscaping, very contemporary. We're finalizing the construction budget right now and hope to start leasing them by the end of 2014."
Botwin also owns some property in the Crossroads District. She sees some parallels between Waldo today and the Crossroads a decade ago. "They're both very organically developed and they both have forward-thinking property owners and business owners," she says. "It's not this super-planned, cookie-cutter type of thing. As a result, you get this wonderful influx of different personalities, different sensibilities. It makes for an interesting mix."
The different personalities and sensibilities inhabiting Waldo rose to the fore, in the context of dispute, earlier this year. At issue was the proposed development of a Wal-Mart on property occupied by Bingham Middle School, a Kansas City public school tucked behind the Trolley Trail, at 7618 Wyandotte. Bingham closed in 2002.
The Kansas City school district was weighing Wal-Mart's plan to purchase the land, raze the building and construct one of its neighborhood markets — a grocery store, not a traditional Wal-Mart — on the property. Wal-Mart would also build a parking lot and cut a new road over the Trolley Trail at 77th and Wornall to provide access to the market. Consensus among Waldo businesses was elusive.
"Our board did not agree," says Melissa Saubers, referring to the Waldo Area Business Association, on which she sits. (Until recently, Saubers served as the mayor of Waldo, an unofficial title that involves a lot of neighborhood cheerleading. She also owns Cowork Waldo, a community work space, at 7449 Broadway, that rents desks and conference rooms to freelancers and self-employed workers.) "Some were excited about the additional tax revenue Wal-Mart would bring in for the Waldo CID. But the flip side was what it would do to the residential community here in Waldo. And the residential community was really vocal about it."
Yes, it was. Shortly after the proposal was made, six homes associations in the neighborhood banded together to vigorously oppose it. In community meetings, they vocalized their concerns about how hard a commercial development of that magnitude would be on the area in terms of traffic, noise and pedestrian safety.
What mostly went unsaid publicly among those who opposed the Wal-Mart plan was the simple fact that many of them just didn't like the idea of a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood. The company's corporatism and reputation for wiping out small businesses put it at odds with the independent-minded culture many Waldo residents are trying to preserve. A previous proposal, for a Hen House at the Bingham site, drew virtually no ire from the community.