Plaza’s Balcony Building saved? Not yet.

An updated rendering of the Polsinelli Shughart building on the Plaza. Image courtesy of the Kansas City Star.

According to many who have seen Highwoods Properties’ revised rendering of the Polsinelli Shughart building on the Country Club Plaza, the Balcony Building–and the district itself–are saved. Whew! Glad we could clear that up so quickly! Except …

Is the Plaza REALLY saved? Maybe using the word ‘saved’ is a little dramatic. It’s not as if the Polsinelli Shughart project puts the entire shopping district at risk for immediate demolition.

The concern — as I and many, many others have pointed out — is that the design of this building is fundamentally different from the existing Spanish aesthetic, and therefore infringes on the Plaza’s signature architectural style. Questions have also been raised about the Plaza’s lack of inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Although that designation isn’t an iron-clad way to prevent new development or renovations, it certainly requires a more careful thought and planning process from those wishing to modify qualifying structures.

As the debate about the Plaza project has continued, supporters have pointed to Valencia Plaza, a newer structure that was built to house restaurant, retail and office space. According to an article published on Buildings.com, “Valencia Place claims status as the largest project ever developed in the Kansas City, MO, Country Club Plaza.”

Valencia Place’s claim to fame is a 10-story tower, two stories taller than the proposed Polsinelli building. Yet thanks to height restrictions passed in 1989, the tower was built 70 feet back from 47th Street, the main Plaza thoroughfare, so as not to interfere with the existing streetscape. That same distance of 70 feet will be used in the Polsinelli project, according to developers.

Take note, however, of this materials description from the aforementioned article in a quote from John Hunter, senior project manager for J.E. Dunn. “‘One of the most striking aspects of this structure was the architect’s use of materials,’ Hunter says. ‘Eight different colors of brick, in many different shapes, were integrated with the stone. The ornate facade and earth-tone colors complement the Spanish-style architecture of the Country Club Plaza’s existing buildings.'”

Although I’m thrilled that the revised Polsinelli building incorporates the existing structure of the Balcony Building, I still worry about the new construction that appears to be mostly glass and a neutral-colored brick or stone. A caller on Monday’s “Up To Date” radio show made a fair point about inevitable change that happens over time, and how much the Plaza has changed in the last few decades. I consider myself a forward-thinking, progressive person, and am all about urban development and renewal, especially when it can resuscitate a previously blighted area.

Yet I still worry that the Polsinelli building — even in its revised form — is too much of an architectural and aesthetic departure for the Plaza, one of the few areas in Kansas City *not* crying out for renewal and construction. Maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but I am adamant that the Plaza is one of Kansas City’s defining factors and should be treated with special care and attention. Do we, as a city, want to work to preserve one of the few strongly identifiable characteristics of our sprawling metropolitan area? Or do we watch as the Plaza’s history and appearance is chipped away, one building at a time? I vote for preservation. For perseverance. For protection. And for principles.

Save the Plaza.

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6 responses to “Plaza’s Balcony Building saved? Not yet.

  1. Yes. I do think you’re being overly sentimental.

    That said, I think the revised monstrosity is much worse than that original rendering. It looks as if thy have just pasted the glass tower on top of and behind the current Balcony structures.

    I’d rather see an holistic building with some design unity than this halfhearted attempt to appease critics.

  2. Thanks for your honesty, emawkc. And incidentally, I just visited your site and read your latest post on this issue – very well-written, and you make a great point about progress not always being a bad thing. The updated rendering is still not what I’d like to see in that space, but I don’t profess to be an architect – just someone who has written about and loved Kansas City for a long time, and doesn’t want the Plaza to become just another generic mixed-used area. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. This may be as close to a save as it gets. However, you’re right about the whole Spanish/Mediterranean architecture thing. Heck, for that matter, it would be nice if, over time, they would make the different stores on the Plaza go back to the original style it was instead of having each store do whatever they want to the outside of the buildings. I’ve said that for years. So hopefully we can push for that style on the building. We’ll see. It would be in their best interests, too, so that should help the situation, hopefully.

    Mo Rage

  4. Mo Rage! So great to hear from you – I’m a big fan of your blog. I agree – I think the design standards still aren’t there for this new plan and that more could be done to ensure the PS building isn’t such a noticeable departure from what’s already on the Plaza. I like your idea about reverting back to the original style – without progress, a city gets nowhere, but I also think that certain cases demand a high degree of preservation, and that’s exactly what we need on the Plaza.

  5. Remember when one could go down to the Plaza (before traffic lights) and do some shopping. Then go down to the “beautiful, shaded paths beside Brush Creek, where young people sat enjoying the simple tranquility of the waterside on a spring day.”

  6. What about that awful construction site across from JJ’s? I wish the people for Polsinelli Shugart would buy that disaster zone and complete it for themselves.

    Thanks for sharing the artist’s rendering. I primarily get news from radio, so that’s the first visual I’ve seen. It makes me wonder who in my home town will stop coming to KC for the plaza lights, if that monstrosity breaks up the attraction.

    (Also, “Hi!” I see that we have a high school reunion coming up. We were in AP Lit together. Good work, Katy!)

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