In April, TJ Roberts was at risk of losing his coffee shop to a parking lot. Now, Roberts is standing his ground, with the help of his community, to purchase the building that houses Kinship Cafe.
“It was a very dark couple of weeks, but now there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Purchasing this building would not only allow us to stay here, but it would allow for us to do more in our community,” said Roberts, who opened Kinship Cafe in 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas.
Click here to read about why TJ Roberts took the leap with Kinship Cafe.
Eagle Point Development, a property management company based in Portland, Maine, informed Roberts earlier this spring that it was planning to build a six-story apartment building. To meet strict parking requirements in KCK, the developer initially discussed purchasing the lot where Kinship Cafe sits, then demolishing the building to pave a surface parking lot. That solution no longer seems to be the leading contender for the project.
“It’s a [affordable] development with amenities and commercial space that would really help the local community and bring more business opportunities,” Roberts noted. “So I want the development to happen, but we’ve been working with some partners to figure out how to make this work for everyone.”
One of those partners: Community Housing of Wyandotte County (CHWC).
CHWC not-for-profit comprehensive community development organization that has served Kansas City, Kansas, since 1998. CHWC builds renovates and repairs homes; is a HUD Certified Housing counseling agency providing down payment assistance and other financial empowerment services; provides low cost housing loans in Kansas City Kansas; and builds community through the arts and urban agriculture.
Click here to learn more about Community Housing of Wyandotte County.
CHWC also has an art campus, Epic Arts, which hosts the Third Friday Art Walk every month in KCK to bring together the community, artists, pop-ups and local businesses. Through the Art Walk, CHWC became familiar with Roberts and his coffee shop.
“TJ has become this real force on Sixth Street,” said Brennan Crawford, who serves as the president of CHWC. “He’s been really transformational to our community. … Over the past couple of years, we’ve talked to TJ about how he can buy that building. But when this challenge emerged with the whole parking situation and development down the street, we got involved.”
As supporters of affordable housing development, Crawford and his team got to work looking for parking solutions that did not require demolishing Kinship Cafe. With CHWC moving its headquarters to the corner of Sixth Street and Minnesota Avenue, the idea of sharing parking with the out-of-state developer has been proposed.
“Nothing is official yet, but there’s some creative solutions here,” Crawford said. “It’s been an opportunity for us to use our identity as a fairly old and well-known [organization] in Kansas City, Kansas, to try and get some folks to work together and come up with a better solution.”
Even with Kinship Cafe’s building less at risk of a buyout, Roberts still plans to purchase the site, he said, noting it will likely be with the support of CHWC. Currently, he anticipates making an offer in the beginning of June.
Although CHWC has worked primarily with families and individuals, not business, the partnership with Kinship Cafe feels natural, Crawford said.
“The ideal situation is that CHWC would support TJ’s ability to buy that building in the same way that we give down payment assistance to prospective new homeowners who don’t have that initial financial chunk of change to buy the home,” Crawford explained. “This partnership would make so much more sense because our whole purpose for existing is to strengthen KCK neighborhoods. We would ultimately like to see TJ build his vision and build his business in this community.”
When business owners own their own building, it strengthens their economic and personal tie to the community, Crawford continued.
“Here’s a way to think of it: if that building is owned by an entity outside of Wyandotte County, all the money that TJ pays to rent leaves the county, whereas if TJs business owned that property, much more of the economic activity stays here in the county,” Crawford noted. “… What TJ wants to do is own that building so he can continue to invest in this community — that aligns with our mission.”
Incubation space for creatives
Building equity through Kinship Cafe would grant Roberts the access to secure more land for phase two: a community space in KCK, he said.
“Next year, our hope is that we can start a phase build of our production space,” Roberts said. “It’d be a space where we can roast and cook, as well as we could host a lot of the events we currently do like our hip hop yoga classes. But I don’t just want to serve myself and Kinship Cafe. I want this to be an incubation space with equipment and a studio for creatives and content creation. It would be a collaborative workspace with entrepreneurs, photographers, artists and graphic designers.”
Along with a workspace, Roberts envisions his community center to have a gallery space where local creatives can showcase and sell their work, he added.
Individuals would pay an affordable monthly membership fee to use the space and the equipment and have access to educational resources.
“Something I see often is that a check is written to someone without any additional support, and then that business is struggling six months later,” Roberts said. “I would like to partner with local organizations like The Toolbox to host workshops from the community center.”
With KCK being the home to many immigrant and minority artists and entrepreneurs, Roberts is hoping to empower these individuals through this space, he shared.
“There’s not a creative space that you can come in and work alongside other Black and Brown creatives, so we’re on a mission to create that,” Roberts said. “Us being able to purchase this building helps us get to that mission a lot faster.”
Roberts initially created a GoFundMe to save his coffee shop from becoming a parking lot; the finances will help Roberts buy the building and ultimately launch the community center. More than 150 individuals donated to the GoFundMe, with many sharing their sentiments on how Kinship Cafe has made a positive impact on the local neighborhoods.
“When I first put my business plan together almost seven years ago, my heart posture has always been toward the community,” Roberts shared. “Buying the building and building a community center is a huge step, but I’m passionate about what we can accomplish for the people and creatives here. It’s cool to say that this all started from a cup of coffee.”