Whole Foods construction halves a popular block

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A couple of Mondays ago, Zach Moores, owner of Crows Coffee, at 304 East 51st Street, started the day with a double shot of uh-oh.

The street in front of his business, the short stretch of 51st between Brookside Boulevard and Oak, was barricaded and closed to through traffic. His year-old coffeehouse, which has enjoyed high-traffic visibility despite being tucked between a busy Pride Cleaners and a Subway sandwich shop, was now blocked from view by a whitewashed plywood barrier that ran the full length of the block.

Construction on Moores’ future neighbor, Whole Foods, had started.

Moores and the other tenants in the low-slung brick storefront, which also houses Kin Lin Chinese Restaurant and the Sahara Café, had been assured this past summer that the huge Whole Foods-plus-apartments project would not disrupt their businesses for a long period of time. Now, though, he and his fellow tenants feel stung.

“One of the construction crew members said that this was going to go for at least three or four months,” Moores says. “And it’s possible we could be losing a great deal of our parking for two years.”

Late last week, the barricades blocking access to the street had come down, but the block-long wooden barrier remained — and likely will for a while.

“We were told, at one point, that the wall — which we had originally told would be a fence — would come down when there was no construction going on,” says Donnie Quinn, the general manager of Kin Lin. “The purported reason for the wall is that when the crews were working in the street on sewer lines and communication lines, it would keep flying matter from hitting people walking by.”

Quinn, who is the son-in-law of Kin Lin owners Jeff and Joanna Ruan, says communication with all the players involved with the construction project “has been terrible.”

“We even had our phone lines cut by a crew installing the fence on the opposite side of the street and couldn’t get phone service into the restaurant for two or three days,” he says. “Our business depends on carryout orders and the ability to use a credit-card machine. We have many regular customers who told us they would come back to pay us in cash. And most of them did. But we lost a lot of business during those days. We’ve even filed an insurance claim.”

Quinn is also unhappy with the plan to take 6 feet from each side of the two-lane street to create what the developer has called a “cityscape.” “We’ll lose six more parking spaces because of that,” he says.

“Leah FitzGerald, with VanTrust Real Estate [the project’s developer], stopped me today,” Moores says, “and told me that there may be another way to do the construction process that wouldn’t involve barricading off our businesses.”

FitzGerald tells The Pitch that there’s no definite date yet for when the white wall will be removed. “At some point, it will come down. Probably earlier than later,” she says.

This slice of 51st Street is represented by 4th District Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who has met with Moores and is in touch with attorneys for Kin Lin. Justus tells The Pitch, “The tenants are, understandably, concerned about when the next wall is going up. I don’t think they were informed about the magnitude of this project. The Catch-22 here is that everybody likes growth, but no one wants the tremendous disruption that comes with it. Kansas City is undergoing the most explosive growth in several generations. I believe this is a resolvable situation.”

“Our family has been here for 25 years,” Quinn says, “and these are all small businesses who depend on reasonable access to our restaurants and shops. This is all supposed to be going on for two more years. Who will still be here at the end?”

Categories: Dining, News