Why Kansas City Needs To Save The Plaza

The Plaza's balcony building, 47th and Broadway, is at risk for demolition. Photo by Katy Ryan

While grabbing a quick Saturday morning breakfast, the front page Kansas City Star headline immediately caught my eye.

“Irate Plaza fans object to plan”

“Irate?” I thought to myself. “Why would people be angry about the construction of a new office building near the Plaza?”

Now that I’m fully informed, count me among the city’s seething masses. Law firm Polsinelli Shughart has proposed a demolition of the 1920s building at 47th and Broadway (commonly referred to as “the balcony building”) and the Neptune Apartments on 46th Terrace. The replacement? An 8-story glass structure that retains none of the Plaza’s signature Spanish architectural elements, a towering eyesore in the heart of the historic neighborhood.

I’m pretty sure that the last time I checked my list, it didn’t mention anything about gawking at coldly modern architecture better suited for a downtown or suburban setting. The Plaza’s design uniformity is one of many factors that has contributed to the district’s iconic status, inviting comparisons that range from Santa Barbara to a picturesque Spanish village.

In a city that continues to struggle with finding–and promoting–its identity, permitting the blatant banality of the Plaza is nothing short of a sucker punch. Even if you, personally, don’t have use for the Plaza, you can’t deny what it’s done for Kansas City, both in terms of tourism and civic pride.

Polsinelli Shughart should be commended for committing to expanding within Kansas City, yet setting what could be an incredibly risky precedent is not the way to demonstrate a continued commitment to the city.

And on that note, I’d like to address something with Plaza owner Highwoods Properties. How about getting the Plaza listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Kevin Collison reports that this designation will place building and development restrictions on the Plaza, resulting in Highwoods’ reluctance to pursue this matter. Yet what’s more costly over the long-term? Missing out on some prospective development revenue, or attempting to recoup a devastating loss once the Plaza morphs into an unrecognizable strip area, devoid of character, history and meaning? You decide.

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12 responses to “Why Kansas City Needs To Save The Plaza

  1. The Plaza is what makes Kansas City … well, Kansas City. Thanks for sharing and bringing this issue into the social space for those that might not have been aware. Let’s keep the iconic and traditional look and feel of the plaza. 😀

  2. Say it ain’t so. I heard about this on the radio. All it takes is one move like this to destroy an icon, as you say. For example, Beale Street in Memphis used to be nothing but small, local restaurants and blues clubs 15 years ago. Now, I hear from friends who visited in the last five years that it is nothing more than an outdoor Oak Park Mall. Giant fail. Thanks for writing this. Your readership might be larger than the Star’s these days.

  3. Totally agree, Katy! And I didn’t know about this. I will repost it to inform more people.

  4. I was actually just telling my L.A. friends about The Plaza because they took me to an outdoor glorified strip mall called The Grove, which is very new and “fancy” but really has all the same stores and summer activities (outdoor live band) as the Plaza, but with NONE of the charm. It did have a Nordstrom…and a Taschen store…but aside from that pretty much identical to the Plaza but no fountains and like 1/3 the parking. And it’s apparently the 3rd largest attraction in L.A. now. Crazy. I hope the Plaza doesn’t go the way of the strip mall.

  5. @Sara – I couldn’t agree more! Have you seen the Facebook “Save The Plaza 2010” page? Looks like an incredibly active grassroots effort is growing – will be interesting to see what happens at the Oct. 5 City Council meeting.

    @wrytir – Ha! I could only hope that my readership would be a *fraction* of The Star’s 🙂 That’s so sad to hear about Beale Street, and it’s exactly what I don’t want to see happen on the Plaza!!

    @Jenny – Thanks 🙂

    @Dana – The Grove sounds awesome (Taschen?? Really?? Sigh.) but I agree – even amazing stores can’t make up for an area that’s devoid of character or historical context. The Plaza has survived – and thrived – since the 1920s – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!!

  6. Pingback: Everybody hates the proposed Polsinelli Shughart building on the Plaza at Midtown KC Post

  7. ARGH!!! How many times have I had to go through this in NYC. To see it happening here really bums me out. It *is* encouraging to hear about the public outcry, though.

  8. Would you be willing to add a FB link (Save the Plaza 2010) and/or post information in your blog for the Save the Plaza Rally that is being held this weekend? We need to publicize this as much as possible, and would appreciate any help you can give us!
    Save the Plaza 2010 Mill Creek Rally
    Saturday, September 4 · 12:00pm – 2:00pm
    Location W 47th Street & J C Nichols Parkway
    In front of the JC Nichols Fountain
    Created by Save the Plaza 2010
    More Info: We will be meeting on the sidewalk in front of the fountain. We will have signs and handouts. Bring your friends, the bigger the turn…out the better. What better weekend to make our presence known than a holiday weekend !
    Thank you!
    Susan Morten

  9. I live hundreds of miles away just south of Anderson, Indiana, so it’s none of my business what is being done in Kansas City. Still, I can voice my opinion that making a decision to destroy even part of an area that sets a city/community apart from other cities/communities is short-sighted.

    A lawyer friend in Indianapolis has been able to successfully practice law from a well-preserved historical building, so a law firm doesn’t really need to be located in a huge glass skyscraper in order to be taken seriously.

    If this law firm really feels as if it needs this kind of bells and whistles set-up in order to shine, they should build it somewhere that won’t have its atmosphere ruined by such a structure sticking out like a sore thumb–and, on top of that, actually causing a priceless, old structure to be destroyed in the process.

  10. Polsinelli Shugart’s move to the Plaza would be detrimental to the well-being of Kansas City’s very peaceful and most beautiful and bountiful area. This law firm, in particular, is not what I want in my back yard. Likewise, a totally different beast would raise its ugly head in that there would be too many new issues with which to contend, i.e. traffic, corruption, and a potentially well-spring of fast food vultures that would be sitting by the sidelines ready for the markets.

  11. Where are you people from? U sound like clueless suburban kansas droids. The Plaza already has large office buildings/towers and this project fits perfectly with those. It conforms to the to the 1989 Plaza Plan design guidelines. And your title and photo need updating – the Balcony Building is no longer going to be demolished with the current plan. There are 20+ highrise structures already on the perimeter of the Plaza, this would be one more. This project keeps the Plaza vibrant by maintaining a high-end buying workforce within walking distance. Without high-rise density the Plaza would have been dead by now. It’s the constant addition of high-rise residential and office that keeps the Plaza humming. Please stop the misinformation and inform yourselves.

    • Hi Mike – Thanks for your comment. I don’t have a problem with development on the Plaza — the question is the type of development that’s occurring, and what will be sacrificed so that development can occur. The Plaza has a certain architectural aesthetic that has significantly contributed to the district’s success and reputation, and some of us are concerned that that character will be compromised for the sake of new business. That being said, I appreciate your viewpoint and am glad you could stop by. And just a note – I won’t be editing that particular post because it’s time and date-stamped and reflects what was happening with the situation at that time. The story does, however, deserve an update, and I’ll be happy to write one.

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