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Not every Waldo business necessarily views proximity to the 75th-and-Wornall heart of the neighborhood as a boon, though. Dan McCall and Jason Rourke (the latter previously was a manager at Lew's and the Well) recently opened the District Pour House + Kitchen four blocks north, at Gregory and Wornall. Along with Louie's Wine Dive a few doors down and Bier Station a few blocks east, the District is meant to appeal to Waldo residents looking to avoid the aggressive crowds that sometimes populate Quinton's, the Well, et al.
"When I go out there [around 75th and Wornall] now, it doesn't feel like a neighborhood anymore," McCall says. "It's not people you recognize from down the street. That's kind of the opposite of what we're trying to do with the District. We're not into that late-night Waldo scene. We want to be a place for dinner and drinks, and then if you want to really party and stay out late, you can head up to Waldo after."
Phil Bourne started running Waldo Pizza, an anchor of the neighborhood, in 1987. It sits at 7433 Broadway, between the Shot Stop and Tanner's.
"I'm not a big fan of binge drinking, and Waldo seems to be attracting more people into the area that are bent on consuming mass quantities of alcohol," Bourne says. "It's good to see the area becoming more vibrant, but I'm a little concerned about how the younger, rowdier drinking crowd impacts Waldo. I think we need to stay vigilant about the nightlife here becoming overwhelming."
Other business owners privately grouse about the arrival of Hookah Haven. Hookah bars, which have a reputation as seedy magnets for underage late-night crowds, aren't the kind of establishments that a gentrifying district likes to play up in a brochure.
Lewellen allows as much.
"That's why my brother and I have been purchasing real estate in Waldo," Lewellen says. (They now own 80 percent of the square block east of the Well — home to such businesses as Hartman Equipment and the Plumber's Friend — plus a piece of property just west of 75th Street Brewery formerly occupied by a dry cleaner.) "We want to make sure the tenants in these buildings are good businesses that stay up to speed. That's the best way to influence what becomes of Waldo and protect our interests — by being invested in it."
A kitchen fire reduced Kennedy's Bar & Grill, at 75th Street and Washington, to a pile of ashes in February 2007. Kennedy's was, in many ways, the quintessential Waldo bar: an Irish dive equally friendly to old drunks and underage graduates of high schools like Rockhurst, St. Teresa's, Sion and Shawnee Mission East. But in its destruction, property owner Diane Botwin saw opportunity.
Botwin's parents bought their first building in Waldo in 1972: the Waldo Astoria Dinner Playhouse, adjacent to Kennedy's. In 1986, Botwin joined her parents in the business. She now owns many of the commercial spaces in the heart of the district, and is landlord to the Shot Stop, 75th Street Brewery, Pickleman's and Kokoro Maki House.
Botwin is steeped in Waldo history, and the Kennedy's fire opened the door for her to think about the legacy she wanted to leave in the neighborhood. She was aware that mixed-use developments have become a standard model for successful urban development. She also knew that the corner was originally one of the first mixed-use spaces in Kansas City when it was erected in the early 20th century — a nexus of residential, commercial, office and entertainment on the same block.