Reimagining the City: An Excerpt from Res Ipsa

Kansas City is a network of vibrant neighborhoods: Westport, Brookside, Crossroads, River Market and more. But these dynamic areas did not develop on their own. Neighborhoods take time; they take people who see opportunity. Our Fall 2017 issue of our alumni magazine, Res Ipsa, explores the lives of alumni and faculty who are working to develop housing and community spaces for those in need. In one article, “Reimagining the City,” Vincent “Butch” Rigby explains how Brookside East came to be and what he dreams for Kansas City.

In a plain building off 31st Street, a block east of Troost, Walt Disney imagined a mouse named Mickey while working at one of his first entrepreneurial endeavors — the Laugh-O-Gram Studio. In the early 2000's, Butch Rigby (J.D. ’85), real estate developer of Film Row LLC, Disney historian and chair of Thank You, Walt Disney Inc., prevented the building from being torn down. It was one of his many endeavors in kindling the magic of Kansas City, old and new.

“There are three things I love more than anything,” Rigby says, “the movies, real estate, and architecture.”

Screenland Theatres, Rigby’s other company, started when he decided to revive Film Row, where single-screen movie palaces once lit up the south end of downtown Kansas City. Those theaters were the match that lit the fire for the Crossroads Arts District.

Rigby’s current aspirations revolve around East 63rd Street, toward Troost and Prospect avenues. When Rigby discovered the neglected area, he saw potential, but there was one problem: It was 85 percent vacant. “The neighborhoods around 63rd are phenomenal,” Rigby says of the quiet area just east of the bustle of Brookside.

All it needed, Rigby thought, was a little synergy to get things started.

Rigby started with a three-story building at 601 E. 63rd Street. The red brick was replaced with glass, giving each office space in the 30,000-square-foot building a view of the trees. He purchased additional buildings, which led to new businesses: Brookside Gardens, Unbakery and Juicery, Pure Pilates, and canihaveabite.

Suddenly, Brookside East was a branded neighborhood with 100 percent occupancy. Ultimately, Rigby wants to push Brookside East toward Troost and Prospect. Rigby believes people must be comfortable visiting the Troost Corridor – long an ethnic and economic line in Kansas City – and it could become a stronger small business environment.

“History in Kansas City is so important,” Rigby says. “I would have no joy in commercial real estate. I love restoring old buildings.”

Read more about Butch Rigby and how other community partners, including students and professors at UMKC School of Law, are pursuing restoring Kansas City

Published: Jan 8, 2018