Published September 16th, 2022 at 10:15 AM
Blue Cross Blue Shield is relocating its headquarters and 1,400 employees to occupy an 18-story office tower, company officials announced today. The building is a half-mile north at 14th and Baltimore and was originally intended for Waddell & Reed.
The move — long speculated after the Waddell deal collapsed when the company was sold in late 2020 — will bring what’s also called Blue KC to the heart of downtown. It was once located at 2301 Main next to Washington Square Park.
Officials at the health insurance firm, which employs a mix of office and remote workers in the metro, described the decision to occupy the 18-story tower, rebranded 1400KC, as “serendipitous.”
In a statement, Erin Stucky, president of Blue KC, said the company has been in the community for almost 85 years and plans to be here “for years to come.”
“We need a workplace that will evolve with us as we drive change to advance affordable access to healthcare and improve the health of our members. Our new location at 1400 Baltimore will enable us to do that,” Stucky said.
The $148 million 1400KC project was designed with eight stories of office space above a 10-story, 1,000-space garage. It was slated for completion last April, according to marketing materials.
While the design was criticized for lacking sidewalk presence and being car-focused during the city review process, the project received a 15-year property tax abatement, six years at 75% and nine years at 37.5% from the city.
The building was the first high-rise office building to go up downtown since H&R Block completed its 18-story office tower in 2006.
The 260,000-square-foot project was developed by a joint venture between Burns & McDonnell and Financial Holding Corp., an entity controlled by Michael Merriman.
Blue KC signed a 15-year lease and plans to relocate to the building in early 2025.
Even though Blue KC explored other options, such as buying the adjoining five-acre parking lot in June for a potential expansion at its current site, the ready availability of a premium office building that fit its space requirements proved the decisive factor.
“Over the last several years, Blue KC had been exploring alternatives to meet collaboration needs, advancements in technology and the changing workforce,” the company said in a statement.
“Options included major renovations to the current headquarters, relocation to an existing space and a new building.
“After careful consideration of all factors, including cost, and the serendipitous availability of 1400 Baltimore, the company knew they had found their new home.”
Mayor Quinton Lucas, who cast the decisive City Council vote to allow the original Waddell & Reed project to move forward, praised the Blue KC decision.
“I’m grateful to Blue KC for investing in our vibrant downtown, bringing hundreds to our restaurants and shops each day, and providing infrastructure support for events and festivals in the downtown loop,” Lucas said in a statement.
“It’s partnerships like this that continue to make Kansas City a great place to live.”
Blue KC’s new location also may benefit from the proposed South Loop Link, a plan to deck a four-block section of the downtown freeway with a park from Wyandotte to Grand. Its new headquarters overlooks the noisy freeway trench.
Port KC recently issued a request for qualifications to begin planning work on the South Loop park deck proposal and officials are optimistic at least part of it could be completed by 2026.
“The new location offers Blue KC the space to consolidate all on-site employees into one location, covered parking for all employees and guests, the opportunity to customize floor plans and outdoor spaces on every floor,” the company said in a statement.
“Other amenities will include state-of-the-art technological advancements, an improved fitness center, access to onsite dining as well as a host of restaurants within walking distance.”
As for its current office building on Main Street across from Union Station, studies in recent years show the potential of the redevelopment of both the parking lot now owned by Blue KC and Washington Square Park.
At one point, the Kansas City Royals were exploring options in the early 2000s. One pitch had proposed a preliminary plan to combine the lot and the park to house a new ballpark.
A redevelopment concept for the park, which would have included swapping equal amounts of park and parking lot land to create development sites on Grand and Main, was released 10 years ago.
In 2014, Union Station hired VanTrust Real Estate, a prominent local development firm, to explore options for redeveloping its parking lot. One complication was that Blue KC had a long-term parking lease that dated to the restoration of Union Station.
Ultimately, no progress was made toward realizing any of the ideas and Union Station officials decided to take advantage of its market value and sell the parking lot to Blue KC earlier this summer.
Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.