By LYNN HORSLEY
The Kansas City Star
It’s not often that a simple warehouse opening draws Kansas City Council members and a host of civic leaders for a celebratory ribbon cutting.
But a Kansas grocer’s decision to locate its warehouse in Kansas City’s urban core did just that on Friday. The warehouse indicates progress –– as well as the crying need for more economic development –– according to those who spoke at the opening of the Chas Ball distribution warehouse near 18th Street and Indiana Avenue.
“This is success,” 3rd District Councilman Jermaine Reed said of the Ball family’s willingness to buy and fix up a blighted, vacant warehouse without a penny of tax incentives. “This was a desire of this company to move into this community and who sees the potential of what this community has to offer.”
Pete Fullerton, president of the Kansas City Economic Development Corp., also praised the new business but said there is a lot more work to do.
“We’ve got to work very proactively to not only maintain this momentum that we have developed in our urban core but also accelerate it,” he said.
John Ball, president of Chas Ball Supermarkets, said his family operates two grocery stores in Kansas City, Kan., and used to have a warehouse there. But they sold that property and decided to buy the 30,000-square-foot building at 3255 E. 18th St., not far from Interstate 70.
“We liked the location,” he said. “It had easy highway access. … It will allow us to grow some.”
It’s also just across from an Asian grocery distributor, which Ball said might lead to some new products for his stores.
At least initially, the purchase won’t create any jobs in the area because the warehouse will be staffed by current company employees.
Still, Reed said it follows other business expansions in the area that hint at some new momentum and potential for an industrial area not far from 18th and Vine. All of those businesses cited the location and easy highway access as major assets.
Among those other expansions:
• Posty Cards, 1600 Olive St. The greeting card company completed a $6 million expansion in 2012 that was one of only a handful of industrial projects nationwide to achieve a top environmental rating. It employs about 50 people during the peak season.
“Our close proximity to downtown, the Crossroads and other great Kansas City amenities is tough to beat,” Posty Cards President Erick Jessee said. “We’re extremely pleased to have completed our recent renovation and expansion in the area that we’ve called home since 1987.”
• Superior Metal Treating and Equipment, at 25th Street and Indiana Avenue. The metal finishing business just completed a 10,000-square-foot expansion and $250,000 in equipment purchases.
Owner Glen True said the company employs 35 people and over the next six months hopes to add five more, hiring people living within the immediate community.
“We’re trying to get local people around here to apply for jobs and try to help right in our own neighborhood,” he said.
• Walker Uniforms, at Truman Road and Prospect Avenue. The uniform and linen company completed a $1.6 million expansion last fall. It employs about 100 people, many from the urban core, and hopes to hire 30 more as business grows, said David Shapiro, a partner in the company.
Reed hinted that more developments are on the horizon in the vicinity of 18th and Indiana, but he declined to provide details.
For development consultant Riccardo Lucas, who watched Friday’s ribbon-cutting, that uncertainty is frustrating. Lucas said the area has much potential, and for years the city has had plans on the drawing boards for an industrial park at 18th and Indiana. But funds and commitment kept getting diverted elsewhere.
“This project has been languishing in the city for over 20 years,” he said.
Still, neighborhood advocates were encouraged about the new grocery warehouse and future opportunities.
“It’s a new business moving into the area,” said Washington-Wheatley Neighborhood Association President Marlon Hammons, who lives nearby. “They could have gone anywhere.”