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Rehabbed apartments offer life in the bike lane

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In March, a refurbished apartment building opened just off the Country Club Plaza: Plaza 209. The building is a post-WWII construction, and the recent $5 million rehab qualified as a historical renovation.

Plaza 209’s slogan suggests that it has escaped any of its former stodginess: “Live Life in 5th Gear.”

The building caters to Kansas City biking enthusiasts, one of the first residential complexes in the area to do so.

“We went a few steps further than other buildings do,” general contractor Mike Tiehen explains. Amenities include a BCycle Station, guest bike parking, long-term indoor bike parking, a workbench and easy key fob access.

C.F. Real Estate Holdings, a diversified global asset management and advisory firm in Chicago, bought the property and contracted Kansas City’s Tiehen Group to be the general contractor and property manager.

So far the building’s 83 units are leased to 60 percent capacity. The apartments range in size from 536 to 790 square feet and in price from $965 to $1,450.

Even the units’ names are bike-themed: Track, Cruiser, Hybrid and Tandem.

Tiehen gutted the six-story building; the plumbing, electrical, ductwork and HVAC systems are all new.

“When we got it down to the shell it’s all masonry with concrete floors, concrete block walls, concrete ceilings. It’s a very solid structure,” he says.

Which posed a decorating challenge. Tiehen called in Tracy Smith of Leawood’s LWP Advisory — stands for Live, Work, Play — a designer the group has frequently worked with.

Smith says she arrived on the scene after the floor plans had already been decided, but she still started with a blank slate.

“What I wanted to do was have a young, fresh vibe. I wanted it to be casual living, especially with the bike element. I’ve seen people rolling their bikes into the building. I even considered instead of having a piece of art on the wall, having a bike rack at an angle,” Smith says.

She went with a palette of grays — paint, tiles and luxury vinyl tile — throughout the building and admits that, while the artwork did have the right vibe for the space, she didn’t invest much time in selecting it.

Now that the dust has settled, she plans to find work by young, local artists to display in the common areas.

“I’d love to see a sculptor come and create something for the outside of the building that’s reflective of what we’re trying to do, (create) a fresh, clean vibe connotative of Plaza living,” she says.

Tiehen worked with Bike Walk KC to ensure the building’s amenities were exactly what bikers would want and appreciate.

Eric Vaughan, Bike Walk KC’s program manager, says, “One of the really cool things Plaza 209 did was they went out of their way to make sure that their long-term indoor bike parking was really good quality. Too many times developers take their long-term bike parking and stick it in the back of a basement garage where a cyclist has to go out of their way to use it.”

Vaughan offers free bike parking consultation to municipalities and developers.

The indoor parking garage is off the gated back lot. A key fob opens the door hands-free for easy access. The room has space for 40 bikes, a workbench and stool, basic bike repair tools, and a bank of lockers for storing gear like helmets and shoes.

“Even in our fitness center we put an upgraded spinner bike for cyclists who want to stay in shape in the winter time,” Tiehen says.

Vaughan helped install an 11-bike BCycle Station, part of a public bike share system, in front of the building.

“In terms of a residential developer bringing in a bike share station solely for the purpose of their residents, and to give free membership to their residents, that’s the first time that’s happened,” Vaughan says.

And the location of Plaza 209 falls right in line with the bike routes Bike Walk KC has worked to establish: Giant color prints of the paths hang on the walls of the bike garage.

“These are what KC calls the safest streets to bike on,” Tiehen explains, pointing to the map’s purple lines. He says that from Plaza 209 bikers can travel all the way into North Kansas City two ways and can also reach Interstate 435 and Swope Park.

Vaughan says that while Kansas City is behind other major cities as far as bike-friendliness is concerned, great strides have recently been made. Plaza 209 is evidence that the city is heading in the right direction.

KCMO’s planning department is in the process of rewriting the bike program, and Vaughan thinks that the end result will be cutting edge.

The complex itself is very nearly cutting edge — or at least very forward-thinking.

Views from the complex’s lower floors are a rush of lush old-growth trees and, in some cases, glimpses of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Residents of the ninth floor can see all the way to Arrowhead Stadium — a long view from the Plaza but appropriate as a nod to the developers’ vision of what city living could and should look like.