West Bottoms Flats: Preserving Kansas City’s history through repurposing and rehabilitation

Team Subcontractors & partners Key personal
General Contractor: Rau Construction
4-Gen Construction, Inc.
Cass County Coatings, Inc.
Rau Construction Company
   - Andy Meyer, Project Manager
Owner/developer: MCM Company,
Inc., Cleveland Ohio
Design Supply Inc.
E&K of Kansas City, Inc.
   - Adam Biddix, Lead Superintendent
Architect: BNIM IBC Carpentry, LLC
JA Lillig Excavating, Inc.
   - Craig Scranton, Principal
MTS Contracting, Inc.
Meyer Construction Specialties
   - Elvis Achelpohl, Designer

Midland Steel Company
National Fire Suppression
New Horizons Enterprises, LLC
Shaw Electric Company
MCM Company
   - Melissa Ferchill, Owner
   - Greg DeNicola, Senior Project

Kansas City’s historic West Bottoms continues to gain traction as a revitalized neighborhood in which to live, work and play. The West Bottoms Flats, a market-rate housing project, is made up of four historic warehouse and manufacturing buildings. As the largest historical rehab project in the area, the project converts neglected spaces into apartments, micro-retail, indoor and outdoor amenity space, and parking.

Each of the historic buildings—Abernathy, Wyoming, Liberty and Bemis—have retained their historic character, from the outside facades to the interior architectural features, while incorporating modern amenities.

original tin ceiling

Project Features

  • $68 million
  • Mixed-use
  • Four buildings
  • 265 units
  • 350,000 square feet


  • •  Fitness areas with traditional
        weights and machines and open
        space for virtual instruction.
  • •  Two outdoor courtyard areas.
  • •  Commercial space at the street level.
  • •  24-hour valet parking for up to 300
  • •  Open lobby areas with seating,
        games and meeting space.
  • •  High-end tenant finishes.

When possible, original tin ceiling tiles were preserved and repurposed throughout the finished Abernathy building. Carefully removed during the demolition process, these pressed tin tiles were reinstalled in some units and in the main lobby.

Photos by ©️2020 Kelly Callewaert | BNIM and @kellycallewaertphoto | @bnimarchitects (Instagram).

West Bottoms: Putting Kansas City on the map

The Kansas City Stockyards opened in 1871 in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City. The area was a hub for livestock sales, and at its peak, only the Union Stock Yards in Chicago was bigger. Business dropped off dramatically after the Great Flood of 1951, which devastated the stockyards and associated businesses and slaughterhouses.

Over the next 60 years, the area struggled to remain relevant. Comprised largely of warehouses and industrial buildings, many sat empty as Kansas City continued to expand in other directions. In 1966, the American Royal building was constructed and then Kemper Arena in 1974. A push to revitalize the area was an uphill battle, and while the annual American Royal agricultural show drew participation and crowds, the surrounding area continued to decline.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the area began to change. Haunted houses set up extravagant entertainment experiences in the old warehouses, graffiti artists used old buildings as canvases for their art, and the vintage shops began popping up. As crowds began to frequent the area, more businesses put down roots. People began to embrace the unpolished rawness that once turned them away. Over the years, the area has continued to improve with a thriving nightlife scene, plenty of retail options and several multifamily buildings.

Preserving the past

Rau Construction Company, the general contractor on the project, has a rich history in both the development of Kansas City and its revitalization. The company got its start in Germany in the late 1800s and eventually landed in Kansas City in 1905. Andy and Dan Meyer, fifth and sixth generations of the original Rau family, spearheaded the work on this project. Partnering with the architecture firm BNIM, the teams worked to find the sweet spot between maintaining the historical charm and significance of the buildings and creating working and living environments to suit the modern dweller.

Andy Meyer pull quote exterior building windows

Each building’s unique window profile was maintained as part of the requirements of the historical preservation society. Old photographs of the buildings helped guide the team on historically accurate design decisions.

Photos by ©️2020 Kelly Callewaert | BNIM and @kellycallewaertphoto | @bnimarchitects (Instagram).

The buildings making up the West Bottoms Flats were originally built starting in the late 1800s through 1920 and have been designated as historically significant by Kansas City’s Historic Preservation office. Rau’s expertise and background in historical rehabs helped guide the team through ensuring close adherence to the expectations of the historical society. One main area of focus on this project was the windows. Each building had a different window style and as part of the update, each finished building had to match the original window profile.

“We worked closely with our partners to produce windows that matched the originals but met today’s standards,” Andy Meyer, project manager at Rau Construction, said. “In the Wyoming building, for example, in order to keep the masonry arched windows, we had to create a brand new window model, complete with wind and moisture tests.”

Maintaining historical accuracy required months of work before the project was even able to break ground. The owner, architect and construction teams worked in conjunction with the historical society to piece together the important design elements through examining photography of the buildings in their prime.

Keeping original design elements wasn’t the only aspect of preserving the essence of these buildings. In recent years, the West Bottoms has garnered a reputation for its street art. It’s not uncommon to see photographers using the area as backdrops for photoshoots. As work began on the buildings, a local arts group specializing in street art, reached out to Rau Construction with a request to work together to preserve the existing graffiti. Rau was able to work around much of the existing artwork to maintain the buildings’ established aesthetic.

Each unit is a blend of historic elements and contemporary finishes with custom cabinetry, modern appliances, in-suite laundry, and quartz countertops. Warm wood tones and original brickwork help maintain the historic charm of each building.

Photos by ©️2020 Kelly Callewaert | BNIM and @kellycallewaertphoto | @bnimarchitects (Instagram).

Planning for the unexpected

Working on buildings built more than 100 years ago can be tricky, largely due to the inevitable surprises that are uncovered during construction. With over 50 historic rehab projects under their belt, Rau Construction has a wealth of knowledge on preparing for the unknown.

“Estimating this kind of project is certainly more art than science,” Dan Meyer, owner at Rau Construction, said. “We approach each project by breaking everything down into individual elements and then trying to anticipate potential issues at each level. It helps that we see a lot of buildings built during the same timeframe and have a good understanding of common obstacles.”

As the team uncovered challenges, the key was to address them immediately and to maintain a constant stream of communication among the team. Weekly meetings kept the group abreast of project milestones and were a forum to discuss ways to approach any challenges.

“The tenure and expertise of our employees make a significant impact on our success rate on projects like the West Bottoms Flats,” said Dan. “Many of our office and field personnel are multigeneration employees with Rau Construction.”

indoor original serpentine box slide original fire doors 

Left: In the Bemis building, the original serpentine box slide is now a focal design element.

Right: The construction team worked to preserve as much of the existing buildings as possible to stay true to each building’s history. Original rolling fire doors remain throughout the buildings as design elements and used as centerpieces in common areas.

Photos by ©️2020 Kelly Callewaert | BNIM and @kellycallewaertphoto | @bnimarchitects (Instagram)

Modern amenities

Finding the balance between preserving the historical nature of a building and updating it for today’s needs is a large part of the success of a rehabilitation project. Not only are tenants looking for quality finishes and amenities, but also flexible live-work options.

Floor plans and options vary for each building and range from micro-units to two-bedroom units. A relatively new concept to the Kansas City metro, micro-units are gaining in popularity. This lower-priced option is ideal for the tenant willing to sacrifice square footage for the ability to live without roommates. Half of the first floor of the Abernathy is dedicated to live-work units, with the unit split into a front retail space and living quarters in the rear. The West Bottoms draws a more artistic crowd and this option appeals to those looking for a studio space close to home.

Another unique feature of the West Bottoms Flats is the parking garage within the Bemis building. Due to its interior layout, vehicles are valet parked using a car elevator able to carry up to 8,000 pounds.

More to come

Based on the success of this project, the owner and teams are already looking ahead at phase two. Another large building on the block will be updated, and 100 apartments will be added to the complex.

“This was a great project,” said Dan. “The teams worked well together and helped keep everything running smoothly. Rau Construction is proud to work with both the MCM Company and BNIM in restoring the area and creating a new, vibrant neighborhood in Kansas City.”