Square development controversy erupts, 1940s church likely victim

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The Country Club Plaza is again a development flashpoint with the likely demolition of an attractive, but unprotected former church, and a developer’s plan to replace it with a three-level restaurant project.

Drake Development intends to raze the Seventh Church of Christ, 47th and Jefferson Street Scientists and build a structure that would add three restaurants to the Plaza, one on each floor. The project would also include worship space for the existing church congregation.

The struggle, however, is not so much about saving the 90-year-old church, which lacks local historic landmark protection, but objections that Drake’s “Cocina47” proposal would exceed zoning height restrictions. “Plaza Bowl overlay” of 20 feet and does not include parking.

“It’s a small site, too small to have a car park. But he bought it knowing the parking and height requirements, said Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who is trying to negotiate a compromise.

“He doesn’t need to fix all the issues, but he has to comply with the zoning in place,” Shields said.

The development dispute is perhaps the most acute in the Plaza area since the 2010 battle over a plan by its former owner, Highwoods Properties Inc., to build a new headquarters for the Polsinelli law firm that would have razed the Balcony Building at 47th Street and Broadway.

The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientists, would be demolished to make way for the Cocina47 project. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)

This proposal caused an uproar in the preservation community, and Polsinelli eventually decided to move into a new building on the west side of the Plaza at 48th Street and Roanoke Parkway.

Drake’s developer Matt Pennington said his proposed restaurant project is the type of development needed to ensure the future viability of the Plaza, which he says has too much retail space for a changing market that is growing. turns to online shopping.

Current owner of the Plaza “Taubman is doing his best, but at the end of the day, there are way too many businesses at the Plaza, Pennington said. “And when you have too much dark space and you’re not allowed to consolidate or retrofit for other uses, retailers don’t want that.

“I have nothing against Taubman, I don’t want a bad relationship, but Taubman needs to be given the opportunity to change his uses from retail to denser uses.”

But Taubman Realty, which bought the Plaza with Macerich Co. in 2016, likes the current zoning requirements.

Taubman joined Block Real Estate Services, Historic Kansas City, Friends of the Plaza and other neighborhood leaders in a joint statement slamming the Drake plan.

“The proposed Cocina47 development is completely inconsistent with the Midtown Plaza area plan and Plaza Bowl overlay,” the statement said.

“Departures cannot be accommodated with minor plan and zoning changes. Approval of this development by the City could set in motion a hodgepodge of proposed development projects in and around the Plaza.

“This could lead to a collapse of overlay orders in Kansas City neighborhoods and poses a threat to land development.”

As for saving the neo-Romanesque brick church that opened in 1942, that seems like a lost cause.

Pennington said the building is asbestos-filled and outdated, and needs to be razed.

The last major preservation battle at the Plaza involved a plan to raze the Balcony Building at 47th and Broadway.[/caption]
The last major preservation battle at Country Club Plaza involved a plan to raze the Balcony Building from 47th Street and Broadway. (Kevin Collison | CityScene)

Historic KC, the area’s leading historic preservation group, acknowledged that the city was extremely reluctant to adopt local landmark protection for a structure without permission from its owners.

“In Kansas City, you just can’t get something locally designated over the owner’s objection,” the group said in an alert the group sent to members last month.

“This is not a requirement, but a political reality,” the alert continues. “The only exception is that the city council approved the designation of Union Station over the owner’s objection.”

Shields said that with the exception of Union Station, she was not aware of any buildings with historic protection from demolition against the wishes of their owners.

It focuses more on the Plaza Overlay area. The building, as originally proposed by Drake, was about 65 feet tall, 20 feet longer than the 45-foot limit.

“If we can make the pitch, I’m ready to take the heat from the preservation community,” she said. “He has to respect the rules of layering and parking.”

As for Drake’s allegation the Plaza’s retail base was shaky, Taubman doesn’t buy his argument.

“Drake Development may lobby city officials for its project using outrageous and unfounded speculation regarding the Plaza’s alleged demise as a hub,” the mall owner said in the statement.

“But the truth is that the Plaza has successfully met the challenges faced by the changing retail environment and the full force of the pandemic. It is strong and well positioned to thrive.

Taubman also accused Drake of trying to provide parking for his project by using garages built to service the Plaza itself. The proposed project is located just outside the official boundaries of the Plaza.

The garages are maintained by a special one-cent sales tax levied at businesses in the Plaza.

“The unprecedented poaching of the Plaza parking lot will directly harm Plaza tenants and their customers, as well as the sustainability of the Plaza,” according to Taubman.

The Jack Henry Building is being redeveloped by Drake Development as a Chiefs Fit Health Club and for other uses.
The Jack Henry Building is being redeveloped by Drake Development as a Chiefs Fit Health Club and for other uses. (Rendering | Drake Development)

Pennington is no stranger to the Plaza, being well advanced on a $44 million redevelopment of the former Jack Henry Building next to the proposed Cocina47 site. The building is being renovated to become a Chiefs Fit Health Club.

The developer criticized the Plaza Bowl’s height restrictions enacted by City Council in 2019 as hindering the continued revitalization the shopping district needs to remain viable.

He estimated that if the project were approved, it would bring $500,000 a year in new sales tax revenue to the city.

Pennington suggested that if his restaurant project were to meet the height restriction imposed on the current square, he should be allowed to take advantage of the garages in the shopping district.

At this stage, the promoter does not plan to apply for tax incentives for the project.

“Not at the moment, but if the use of public parking in the Plaza really becomes an issue, we will be forced to ask for incentives,” Pennington said.

Shields has made progress in discussions with Drake Development to reduce the height of the building. The developer originally wanted significantly higher ceilings for the dining spaces, she said.

“I’ve been meeting them since last fall,” she says. “I think we are making progress.”

Pennington said the higher ceilings are needed to meet the demands of modern restaurateurs. The plan also includes large outdoor spaces for each restaurant.

As for parking, Shields suggested Drake negotiate with Block Real Estate, which owns the 46 Penn Center office tower immediately north of the development site, or Taubman for the spaces his development is needed.

Block, however, doesn’t like what’s on offer.

“These standards (Plaza Bowl overlay) ensure that all new projects adhere to the Plaza design aesthetic that dates back to 1923,” Block said.

“This development project far exceeds height restrictions and forces its visitors to seek on-street parking in the nearby residential area and parking spaces that have been purchased and maintained by neighboring landlords.”

Pennington acknowledged that he had more negotiations to do before submitting a development plan to City Hall. If successful, the demolition of the old church would take place before the end of this year with the project expected to be completed in 2024.

“I’m bringing three amazing restaurants to town and we’re fighting over a few yards and parking,” he said. “Logic does not prevail here.

“Overall, Kansas City wants the Plaza to retain its shine and keep it looking amazing.”

Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.

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