What's Ahead (or not) in 2014 for Kansas City Development?
Kevin Collison | The Kansas City Star | January 7, 2014 1:00am
Jan. 07--Looking ahead at the development year in Kansas City, there are enough 2013 leftovers to rival a week of post-Thanksgiving meals.
And speaking of turkeys, 2014 may be the last gasp for the idea of a downtown convention hotel.
The current push for this perennial mega-project began six years ago. The buzz continues, but no pitch has been presented with a risk factor palatable to the guardians of the city treasury. The underperforming Power & Light District may be considered an acceptable downtown loss leader, but it poisoned the well for more city-backed bond deals.
There was a flurry of activity toward the end of the year, but none of the development pitches made for the three major candidates -- the block of the historic Power & Light Building, the so-called American Hereford Association site by the Performing Arts Center, or the block southwest of 14th Street and Baltimore Avenue -- passed muster for city financial help.
And with a developer moving ahead with an unsubsidized 257-room hotel project at 16th Street and Baltimore, the old Savoy in store for a 120-room redevelopment, and other hotel projects afoot including the possible conversion of the old Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank on Grand Boulevard, the financial case for a 1,000-room behemoth appears to be getting weaker, not stronger.
Maybe it's OK to have several smaller additional hotels, better linked by the new streetcar line with the Convention Center, than to continue what's been an uphill convention hotel quest. And if the owners of the Marriott Downtown renovated the remaining space in the old Muehlebach wing of the complex, that would add 150 more rooms to the mix.
A blue-ribbon task force appointed by Mayor Sly James is expected to make a recommendation this April about the future of the 40-year-old airport complex. Do we put a couple hundred million dollars into refurbishing the current setup, or go big and drop a billion dollars or more on a new, single terminal?
Just a snapshot from a recent flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul over the holidays: The KCI terminal was dingy, the food offerings pathetic, and it felt like a concrete bunker compared with the spacious, well-lit, well-retailed Minnesota airport, the result of $3.2 billion in improvements since 1998.
As opposed to eating expensive hotdogs in a cramped attic of an eatery before leaving KCI, we left Minnesota enjoying a panoramic sunset and ordering drinks on iPads at each seat of the contemporary cafe near our gate, one of several food and beverage establishments in our wing alone.
Which place do you think left the impression of a vibrant, 21st century city?
Promise and question marks
The near future does hold great promise for the old Bannister Mall site along with south Kansas City in general.
The biggest thing on tap for 2014 in the area is the expected start of the Cerner Corp. office campus at what's now called Three Trails. The first phase of what's billed as a 4.5 million-square-foot, 15,000-job development over 10 years is expected to include 578,500 square feet of office space and 2,260 employees.
Other positive developments are in the works for the nearby massive Bannister Federal Complex, although its demolition and redevelopment are at least two years off.
Still a question mark is the proposed Oxford on the Blue, a 350-acre biomedical research campus near U.S. 71 and Interstate 435, near Blue River Glade, a county park.
Oxford is being pursued by James Stowers III with the help of real estate guru Whitney Kerr Sr. Although the two are well along in readying the site for development, they still have not lined up tenants. And despite speculation that a long-awaited second phase of the Stowers Institute would be a likely candidate, Kerr said that's not in the works.
Oxford on the Blue sounds a lot like the Missouri Innovation Park science and technology center being pursued in Blue Springs. It remains to be seen which of those high-concept office parks makes progress this year, if either.
Overland Park is considering one of its largest infill developments in recent history, a $350 million plan that would develop what is now mostly 138 acres of farmland at U.S. 69 and College Boulevard. The City Place proposal calls for more than 1,500 apartments and four office buildings totaling 587,000 square feet and at least 32,000 square feet of retail.
A key planning commission meeting is scheduled for Jan. 14.
In the Northland, the proposed $200 million redevelopment of the mid-1970s Metro North Shopping Center is being readied for takeoff. The proposal by MD Management, in the works for three years, calls for the two-story shopping center, now home to just Macy's and a handful of retailers, to be demolished and replaced with a one-story indoor mall.
In northeast Johnson County, the good development news is that the massive Ikea store in Merriam is well on its way to an expected opening this fall. The not-so-good news is that progress on the Mission Gateway development has continued to stall. Work finally started on preparing the 26-acre site off Shawnee Mission Parkway last fall and then halted at the end of the year.
Developer Tom Valenti says he's reconfiguring some of the retail layout and waiting for acceptable construction bids, and plans to begin utility work in March. But Mission residents are understandably uneasy about a Wal-Mart-anchored development that has taken more than eight years to get this far.
Downtown's coming attractions
Getting back to downtown Kansas City, the streetcar project is the biggest development on track for construction this year. The city also would like to identify future extensions. It seems a no-brainer that continuing the route through the major urban activity nodes, including midtown, Westport and the Country Club Plaza, would be the logical next move.
What will be a difficult political question is how to pay for it. It was expedient to create a limited transportation development district approved by a small number of voters for the current 2-mile route, but that financing mechanism is unlikely to bear the weight of a more extensive system.
There are some big downtown apartment deals in the works this year, including the 311-unit Cordish high-rise proposed for 13th and Walnut streets, another leftover from last year. Will we hear that the proposed Pickwick, Folgers and Commerce Tower renovation projects have started construction? If so, that would add almost 700 apartments to the mix.
Also on tap from last year's development list is the downtown YMCA, a 100,000-square-foot fitness complex being pitched for what's now a parking lot at 10th Street and Grand. It would help make downtown a more livable place for all those new residents.
But will downtown be an attractive location for employers, too?
The federal General Services Administration is planning to bring 900 government workers now at the Bannister Federal Complex to Two Pershing Square, but that's not until 2015. Over the past 10 years, downtown has lost 16,000 private jobs, a 20 percent drop, and that didn't include the departure of AMC Entertainment.
Mayor James is confident that the dozens of smaller, high-tech and other entrepreneurial operations that have sprung up downtown in recent years will help fill that employment gap, but whether that's a replacement for the exodus of major employers remains to be seen.
To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kckansascity.