KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is plenty of development all over the Kansas City metro, building new places to live, work and find entertainment. But some of those big, transformational projects can be much too big for communities that don’t need or want to be transformed.

An approach called incremental development is proving to be a better answer for some neighborhoods that need help on a much smaller scale.

The activity inside PH Coffee, which is named for its Pendleton Heights community, echoes off walls that sat empty for years before Addison Bliss and his business partners opened the shop right before COVID.

“It played no role in the community,” said Bliss, referring to the formerly-vacant space. “It was, generally speaking, abandoned.”

And yet, there was a need in the Pendleton Heights community for some sort of gathering space. Groups like the local neighborhood association or even just people who lived nearby had no place to gather. PH Coffee serves that purpose now.

“It galvanizes all the people in the community into something much stronger,” said Bliss.

He said the coffee shop is not only larger but also more spread out than most other locations, creating plenty of space for events and presentations.

Alcholic beverages are on the menu as well for gatherings in the afternoon and evenings.

PH Coffee is one example of incremental development and the goal is to create many more.

After COVID shutdowns, Bliss’ business partner, Lee Berman, says they’ve already fixed up the building across the street, where a non-profit is setting up shop.

Next, they’re looking to the empty lot next door, where Berman says Victorian homes once stood before they burned down in the 1980s. The lot has been vacant ever since.

“If you provide a good space, it can be the non-profits, it can be the coffee shop, they’ll take it from there,” said Berman.

It’s a departure from the much larger and more common form of real estate development taking hold right now. Normally, bigger developers work with much larger projects that can change a whole community.

“What Incremental Development is really trying to do is meet the market where it’s at,” said Urban Planning Consultant and Small Developers Alliance of Kansas City Organizer Abby Kinney.

She pulled the alliance together to help incremental developers find each other and help navigating the maze of rules and regulations that govern real estate and building so it can happen more.

“Kansas City has so many neighborhoods that have vacant buildings like this building used to be, that I think a lot of people are sick of looking at,” said Kinney.

The group helps developers like Terrell Jolly who fixes up homes for people to rent them out when they can’t afford much else.

“I don’t have any property in my portfolio that I personally can’t live in,” said Jolly.

He does that work with a few properties at a time, leaning on the alliance when he hits a snag navigating permits, zoning or other development red tape.

“It’s a hub of knowledge you can share and make the road a little bit smoother,” said Jolly.

Jolly says development in many of the communities he works in requires him to do the project himself because traditional lenders often won’t finance projects because there aren’t enough properties that have enough value to justify their investment.

However, once Jolly’s projects are finished, they can serve as the justification for the next project to be invested in, making future work more possible.

“It creates a spark in a neighborhood that starts to create a space where people can gather, where small businesses can start their work,” said Kinney.