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.