The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph announced October 1 that it has purchased property in downtown Kansas City for use as a diocesan center. The historic New York Life building at 20 W. Ninth Street will be the future home of diocesan and Catholic Charities offices which are currently spread across three locations in the city.
The 10 story, 140,000 square foot (leasable space) New York Life building dates from 1888 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The $11.7 million contract price includes 565 spaces of secured, covered parking and the adjacent 45,000 square foot Merchants Bank building at 850 Main. Prior owners put $60 million into a complete renovation of the facilities including installation of new mechanical systems about 10 years ago.
Bishop Robert Finn told the Catholic Key that it has been clear for a couple of years that the diocese had outgrown the Chancery building at 300 E. 36th Street. About a dozen Chancery offices are currently in leased space at the Gillham Plaza Building and the main Chancery is in need of reconfiguration for diocesan needs.
“I didn’t want to put a lot of money into this building because I felt that we’ve already outgrown it,” Bishop Finn said.
About six months ago, Catholic Charities asked Bishop Finn for permission to begin to look for a place to relocate their offices. Catholic Charities is currently located at 1112 Broadway and they too have leased space at Gillham Plaza. “It became the occasion to look for a place where all the diocesan offices could be for the next century,” Bishop Finn said.
The diocese had originally considered constructing a diocesan center, but the cost was prohibitive. “Because of the depressed real estate market, we began looking at existing properties,” Bishop Finn said.
Bishop Finn said the diocese had three criteria in selecting a property. It had to be near the Cathedral, have enough space to “accommodate all our needs plus some future growth,” and be at a location “where we’d be identifiable as the face of the Catholic Church in Kansas City.”
In the end, he said, “We were able to acquire a very significant landmark building at a price considerably under it’s appraised value.”
Bishop Finn said he does not regard the purchase “as just the Chancery offices moving. We’re envisioning it as a diocesan center. Catholic Charities which does so much to promote the mission of the Church will be literally working alongside the other works and offices of the Church.”
The presence of a diocesan center at the New York Life Building “also adds to the very meaningful revitalization of downtown Kansas City,” Bishop Finn said.
“Because we’ve had good stewardship of our resources, both in my time and in my predecessors’ time, we will use some of our reserves” to pay for the property with the balance secured by a bank loan, Bishop Finn said.
The diocese intends to sell the Merchants Bank building which is also fully upgraded. In addition, the diocese is actively seeking to lease out 3 floors of the New York Life Building at 14,000 square feet of Class A space each.
“If we are able to sell 850 Main and to lease a meaningful portion of 20 W. Ninth, we’ll actually be in a more efficient operation than we currently have both at the Chancery and Catholic Charities,” Bishop Finn said.
The systems renovation by prior owners should add to that efficiency. In addition to architectural awards, the renovation at 20 W. Ninth has received national awards for energy efficiency, pollution prevention and environmental excellence.
Bishop Finn hopes that diocesan offices will move in to the new property in the Spring of 2011, while it is possible Catholic Charities will move in earlier. The move affects only the Kansas City metro offices of Catholic Charities; satellite locations will remain open.
Additional move in costs will include office build-out and repair of sidewalks and curbs.
The move will allow for “a lot of opportunities for new kinds of services for the diocese and to the community,” Bishop Finn said.
The unified location will allow for diocesan entities to “collaborate more readily and closely,” will have additional meeting and gathering space, a chapel, and potentially, the ability to add classrooms for catechetics and other classes.