The Lights are Much Brighter There! Q&A with Joe Close About Downtown KC
Recently I had the chance to meet Joe Close, one of our regional presidents and lenders specializing in commercial real estate lending. Joe's been with the bank for 14 years and works at our downtown Kansas City location. He had some great things to say about Kansas City because he's personally witnessed the remarkable turnaround our downtown has made in the past decade.
What's your favorite part about working downtown?
Our downtown area is so vibrant these days; it's really the happening spot in Kansas City. If you had friends in town visiting, you'd want to take them downtown. I mean, you have green space, a shiny new streetcar, a grocery store, diverse bars, restaurants, places to workout—everything is self-contained. I think it's reflective of a demographic movement back to the urban core.
While I don't live downtown, I've worked down here my whole career. I moved to Kansas City in 1992, and I've seen the ups and downs. I'm excited just to play a small part in that resurgence we're seeing right now.
How has the bank helped facilitate that resurgence?
We work for the people in the community. We're currently financing some apartment buildings and businesses on the main streets of downtown, right on the streetcar line. We're a part of the fabric of the greater downtown area, which comes from being a part of the community for so many years. You don't just show up because Kansas City is "hot" if you want to make a lasting contribution. That's something I'm proud of: I love to walk around downtown and think, “I was a part of building that, transforming that.”
It's been exciting to see some of the new businesses move in. A good example is one of our new neighbors in City Center Square, Sungevity. It's a residential renewable energy company based in California, who just opened up a Kansas City office. They plan to staff up to 600 employees. It's brought a lot of young people and vitality to our building. I think the appearance of Sungevity and other tech businesses shows it's hip to be downtown again, whether it's to live, work or play.
How does the energy of the downtown area affect you and your lifestyle?
It certainly affects the business I do. I receive calls on a weekly basis from real estate investors from throughout the U.S. to talk about financing projects. We're on the national map, and that doesn't happen by accident. It takes a lot of work. Organizations such as Visit KC, the Kansas City Area Development Council and the Downtown Council have all cultivated the Kansas City brand.
With summer coming, do you anticipate a boost in traffic downtown and at the bank?
Absolutely. First Fridays really heats up the vibe of downtown and the Crossroads. This next event, while it isn't the official start of summer, will be the first time that the streetcar will carry passengers. Just the First Friday concept brings a lot of people together—even those who wouldn't normally be down here. It's a huge street party. It's fun and edgy, but clean and safe.
What's your favorite lunch spot downtown?
Harry's Country Club. I actually ate lunch there today. It's a very comfortable spot, and I always see someone I know.
Would the downtown landscape change if Country Club Bank weren't here?
I think so, because of the consistency of our presence and the relationships we've cultivated. It takes so many pieces to make up the fabric of downtown; it's kind of like a quilt. If the quilt is missing a few of its pieces, it just wouldn't be complete or as colorful—and it might be a little drafty!
I'm guessing you're a Kansas City sports fan. Are you excited for the Royals this season?
I'm a sports fan in general! I think it brings people together. If you're walking around another city and see a stranger with a Royals shirt on, you could give them a high five and share that bond without even knowing the person. I also think the players truly appreciate the genuine support and respect they get from this town. We honor their privacy but we support them well.
My wife and my three boys came down for the parade last fall, and I had a secret spot all scoped out. By the time the parade began we were about 10 people deep, so I guess the spot wasn't so secret after all. But it was something I wouldn't have missed! And it's incredible to me that there were no incidents at the parade or after the game. In a city like Chicago, that wouldn't have been the case.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, I have three boys, ages 12, 13 and 14. I like to watch their sporting events and still beat them in PIG, our favorite basketball game. And, of course, I also love to spend time with my lovely bride. We also have three dogs: Ruby, Rosie and Tulip. They're all female because my wife wanted to even the gender ratio in the house!
Finally, what makes Country Club Bank unique among the other banks in town?
We're big enough to work on projects that are significant and noteworthy, but we're small enough that we get to know the people that are a part of them. We're also consistent. Having local family ownership is critical to our clients. For instance, I can go and get Paul Thompson, the president of the bank, and bring him to my office within 30 minutes to look at a project. If your bank is headquartered in Dallas or even St. Louis, you just can't do that.
Leading the Surge
It's easy to feel the resurgence of downtown Joe is talking about—and Joe's excitement for Kansas City is certainly contagious! I also can't wait to see how the area grows even more this year.
As I meet with more and more associates, I'm noticing that Country Club Bank really does feel like a family. Everyone knows each other here, and people really are in it for the long haul. It's a good feeling to know I've found a place where people truly want to stay.
Marla Youk serves as a senior vice president and the director of marketing for Country Club Bank. Tweet to her @CountryClubBank or share your thoughts on the Facebook page!