KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cruising with the windows down in Kansas City, a blur of cement, skyscrapers and lights flash by.

But soaring high above the city sits an unseen, elevated community with some Kansas City buildings housing secret greenspaces, venues and pools that hang just above our heads on unsuspecting rooftops.

“I would say it is a shock,” said Meredith Engles, community manager at The Grand Apartments located in downtown Kansas City. “I mean, that’s one of the fun things for us is taking people on tours, and whenever you open that door to the rooftop, just seeing the amazement on people’s faces, like they didn’t realize that was even there.”

Residences with rooftops offer attractions

Originally built in the early 1960s, The Grand Apartments was once home to a Traders National Bank, an attorney’s office and even a dentist office. But in November 2018, Engles said The Grand decided to purchase the property and undergo a $70 million renovation.

Among the amenities installed during the renovation included a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor dog park and paw spa, a digital sports lounge, coffee bar, theater vault, all topped off with the tallest elevated sun deck pool in the metro.

“We have the tallest rooftop pool in Kansas City, and what’s nice about our rooftop is it’s open year round, so our residents can have that outdoor space, they can get that fresh air, even in the winter time, when the pool should be closed,” Engles said.

Overlooking structures like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Jackson County Courthouse, and Kansas City’s City Hall, the Grand rooftop offers a skyline view that extends far into the eastern distance, including Arrowhead Stadium.

“That’s something we obviously advertise on our website is having the highest rooftop pool in Kansas City, but that probably is something a lot of people don’t know unless they come and take a tour,” Engles said.

Just a few streets over, Two Light Luxury Apartments also maintains a floating sundeck, with an infinity edge rooftop pool overlooking the KC Live! Block. The elevated space includes lounge seating, green spaces, grilling stations, cabanas and fire pits.

“From the grand ceilings to the artwork, and then you come up and you see these 30,000 square feet of amenity spaces, but truly, the ‘wow factor,’ I think, are the views,” said Leah Maki, director of marketing for Cordish Living. “You get out onto our amenities deck and you’re overlooking the Power and Light District, and it’s that beautiful Kansas City skyline.”

Maki said 60% of their tenants come from outside the Kansas City area, something she attributes to Two Light’s luxurious amenity spaces. She said tenants who work from home want to rent in a place where their building amenities feel like an extension of their own living room.

“There are many apartment communities that may offer some amenity spaces, but I think that the way Two Light is set up, just having all the spaces on one level, just really makes a difference to our residents,” she said.

A block away, Power and Light Apartments’ rooftop beacon offers a 360-degree view of Kansas City, along with a reservable space for residents to entertain and sky gaze. 

“The rooftop is my favorite amenity,” said Bettina Collins, leasing professional at Power and Light Apartments. “The beacon lounge, I can’t even describe it. But pretty much, what you can do in the beacon lounge is if you ever want to entertain and don’t want to use your apartment for that, you can reserve the beacon.”

The 1930s-era elevated lounge includes a mini fridge, ice maker, tons of counter space, a microwave, as well as Bluetooth devices and access to the rooftop terrace. On apartment tours, Collins said she always shows residents the rooftop first, which she said “wows” potential tenants every time.

“We’ve been part of the Kansas City skyline for years,” Collins said. “We have people that call, they want to do prom pictures up here.”

Bringing greenery to the city

Power and Light Apartments doesn’t allow outside tours of its rooftop, but public rooftop locations, like the Green Roof Park on Walnut Street’s parking garage, offer a taste of nature in a sea of skyscrapers. 

Troy Branch, who once lived at One Light Luxury Apartments downtown, said the rooftop dog park helped him meet people in the community after moving downtown in November 2020.

“There’s really nothing else quite like this down here,” Branch said. “I mean, and not only is it a greenspace, but it’s pretty good-sized, and I think people are always amazed that this is on top of a parking garage.”

Branch said he would have never known the dog park was there if a neighbor hadn’t mentioned it to him.

“We’ve met some people here that don’t live in that (One Light) building but they live in the neighborhood, and I think maybe they found out from other people that this was here, but it’s kind of a well-kept secret,” he said. “I don’t think it’s intended to be that.”

Branch said his family moved from Lee’s Summit, where they had a fenced yard, so having a green space where his dog can run around, play off-leash, and enjoy the weather has been game-changing.

“Otherwise, you don’t really have anything quite like this down here,” he said.

Green roofs benefit citizens’ social and extracurricular needs, but they also serve the needs of the environment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2018 case study on Kansas City green roofs, integrating nature-based spaces into the urban landscape helps reduce stormwater runoff, lowers surface temperatures, increases building and energy efficiency, reduces air pollution, and improves psychological well-being through access to nature.

Kansas City Central Library’s green roof is just one of several in Kansas City that are open to the public, offering a life-sized chess set for citizens to play with, outdoor patio and seating area, as well as an expanse of native grasses and trees.

The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts also maintains a private green rooftop space designed to retain water for its own needs, according to the EPA’s case study, where excess water enters underground channels for reuse and recycling. In fact, the amount of water saved through this process is estimated to be equivalent to 84% of the city’s annual irrigation demand, saving at least $56,000 a year in municipal water costs, according to the case study.

“The importance of it, obviously, we’re in an urban environment and we have a lot of things that we don’t take advantage of in an urban environment,” said Danny Roberson, director of real estate for Second + Delaware Apartments. “Greenspace and fencible spaces are two of the main ones, but as well as climate change is real and we need to start building our buildings differently in order to get people to start thinking differently.”

Second + Delaware Apartments in the City Market provides residents with a rooftop greenspace where tenants can reserve plots of land for gardening.

“The garden space has been a huge boom,” Roberson said. “We’ve actually had people come in here and tell us that they wouldn’t have lived anywhere else downtown because those downtown places don’t have the garden amenity, so obviously, it’s an outlier.”

With 276 units and 120 reservable gardening plots, Roberson said more than half of the building wants a gardening space, with at least 65 tenants currently on the waitlist.

Along with gardening plots, Second + Delaware maintains a rooftop solar panel array that helps cut utility costs. Roberson said residents’ utility bills are included in their rent, so they have a realistic way to budget, without unpredictable, added monthly costs.

“I think it shows that there’s a movement toward urban living, that it doesn’t have to be just one thing,” Roberson said. “You can incorporate a lot of best practices and a lot of suburban-like features that you can bring downtown and still give people what they want, and still have a lot of the urban, walkability downtown vibe that people are looking for, but still have some of the suburban lifestyle that people are looking for.”

For more information

Individuals interested in learning more about green roofs can visit Green Roofs for Healthy Cities – North America Inc.’s website. Those interested in learning more about rooftop apartments in the Kansas City area should visit LeasingKC.com.