The Roanoke Arts Scene Ramps Up with Addition of Two Top Designers

You need to peel your eyes to home in on the arts vibe at 3314 Roanoke Road.

This used to be a plumbing supply company. A squat, cinderblock-and-brick building stands out front, flanked by warehouse buildings and loading docks in back.

But a sign on the front door says “EGAWA-ZBRYK.” That refers to Rie Egawa and Burgess Zbryk, two well-known Kansas City designers who bought this property in 2016. They are renovating it to serve as their next home and studio-workshop.

“Right now the property is a dump, but for us, it’s about our vision of transforming an eyesore into something of beauty and function,” Zbryk said. “We’d like to be in there a year from now. We like the neighborhood.”

Egawa and Zbryk create space-specific installations, often inspired by nature and interpreted with modern vision, in a wide range of scales and materials. Their current home and studio are located at 1824 Grand Blvd. in the Crossroads Arts District. It’s a funky, multi-story, 100-plus-year-old industrial building with a faded sign above the first floor that says, “Kosher Market & Sausage Factory.”

Egawa, who also works at Hallmark, learned of the 3314 Roanoke Road building from a listing on the Karbank Real Estate Co. website. She said she likes living in the Crossroads, “but as we get older, we want to be on one floor. The place we’re moving to is perfect for our next phase.”

Besides the growing arts and design scene in the Roanoke neighborhood, Zbryk likes the ambience there. “It’s much quieter over there in the evenings,” he said. “There’s a little more nature over there, even though it’s industrial. We almost butt up to Roanoke Park. There are a lot of trees around our property. But it’s kind of urban too, so it’s a nice mix. We want this to be the last place we live, kind of our dream studio.”

The Roanoke neighborhood today is largely populated by light industrial businesses such as a construction company, an engineering firm, and supply and shipping businesses. But other artists have been establishing studios in this vicinity. And about half a mile southeast of the future Egawa-Zbryk abode is Hufft Projects, a burgeoning design-build firm where Zbryk works as a designer-fabricator. Hufft, located at 3612 Karnes Blvd., designed a workplace and showroom for the nearby Carthage Stoneworks, at 3125 Roanoke Road.

And look out, because the arts scene in this neighborhood might be on tap for a fuel injection. At press time an important Kansas City arts organization was working on plans to move here, if it can get everything lined up the way it needs to be.

“It will be right next door to us if it does happen,” Egawa said. “It would be so exciting.”

Egawa and Zbryk have experienced plenty of excitement in and around their Crossroads building, which they bought in 1994. The Crossroads’ transformation into an arts district had begun by then, but most Kansas City area residents blanched at the idea of hanging out there after 5 p.m.

“When we bought the building, across the street from us were places for plasma donors, check cashing, a pawnshop, temp labor, the full gamut of those kinds of businesses,” Zbryk said.

Back then, the Crossroads was home to many artists who presided over full-floor studios in large buildings. Rents were cheap, and creativity permeated the atmosphere.

Sometimes the Crossroads offered too much excitement, and evenings could bring a variety of crime. “We’d had three murders on this block since we’ve lived in this building,” Zbryk said.

But community spirit was in plentiful supply. “Now they have the Crossroads Community Association, but in the early days it was just a lot of artists who had studios down here,” Zbryk said. “We would get together at the Dolphin Gallery and stuff envelopes for First Friday mailings. I don’t think anybody envisioned that it would take off the way it did.”

Egawa and Zbryk are glad that the Crossroads has blossomed into a regional and national draw, but the success has come with a price. Some artists have had to move away because of rising rents.

But others have benefitted. “Some people may lament that artists were gentrified out of the Crossroads,” Zbryk said. “While many who rented space may have been pushed out, for others who managed to buy their properties, the revitalization of downtown is an economic windfall. We would never be able to pull off what we want to do with our Roanoke property if real estate in the Crossroads had not taken off the way it has.”

It’s a pattern that has occurred in arts districts around the country and is bound to continue. But what’s happening in the Roanoke neighborhood demonstrates yet again the dynamism of Kansas City’s arts and design scene.

About The Author: Julius Karash

Julius Karash

Julius A. Karash is a freelance writer, editor and public relations person. He formerly was a business reporter for the Kansas City Star and executive editor of KC Business magazine. He devours business and economic news, and is keenly interested in the relationship between arts and economic development in the Kansas City area.

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