Tag Archives: country club plaza

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.


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.

Reasons I love Kansas City, #1: The Plaza

After all the fanfare, I’m a day late. Sigh. My computer had a near meltdown yesterday, but everything seems to be in working order today (knock on wood!) So, without further ado, I present you with the first reason I love Kansas City:

The Country Club Plaza began as a vision of famous Kansas City developer J.C. Nichols, who wanted to create a retail district away from the downtown area. And more than eight decades later, the Plaza remains not only a premier example of new urbanism, but also a favorite spot for Kansas City residents and visitors alike.

My Plaza experience began seven years ago. As college students, my friends and I would frequently roadtrip to Kansas City, spending most of our time on the Plaza as we browsed the stores (including the couture department at Halls, which seemed almost ethereal in its luxury). At the time, KC Masterpiece was one of my favorite Plaza eateries (thank goodness my tastebuds have matured!) and I also spent an ungodly three hours to get into The Cheesecake Factory.

In August 2004, the Plaza took on new significance for me. After moving to Kansas City to begin an unpaid internship, I also happily found myself with an unexpected roommate. My best friend, Jamie, opened the door of her Plaza apartment to me, and for the next three years, we had a blast in our airy, spacious digs that were ideally perched on the corner of Roanoke and Ward Parkway. We quickly carved out several Plaza-centric traditions, including our annual Plaza lighting ceremony parties, snow day celebrations and frequent trips to Latteland for coffee and The. Best. Cookies. In. The World. (or wedding cake cookies, as they’re more commonly known).

My departure from the Plaza to the Northland (and later downtown) was bittersweet, but I still frequent the coffeeshops and boutiques on a regular basis. One of my favorite Kansas City scenes unfolds as you walk along Ward Parkway; on one side, the Plaza beckons, and on the other, the towering Intercontinental and Raphael hotels, along with several apartment buildings, stand as gracious sentinels that steadfastly observe Brush Creek and the larger Plaza district.

It’s on the Plaza that I found my first true home in Kansas City and began a career that would eventually lead me to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write a tribute to the city I love so much. Take the time to explore one of the city’s crown jewels, and you just may find a similar sense of belonging among the Spanish-style architecture that seems at once incredibly exotic and quintessentially Kansas City.