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Historic KC Releases ‘Endangered’ List, Includes Plaza, Katz Drugstore

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This year’s “Most Endangered Places List” from Historic Kansas City includes not only buildings such as the Katz Drug Store, but raises a red flag about the city’s most prized district, the Country Club Plaza.

Each year, the city’s premier historic preservation group prepares a list of buildings and places that are threatened by shifting economics, neglect or demolition.

“(The) Most Endangered Places List provides a powerful spotlight that raises awareness of the cultural and economic value of our historic buildings…and the lack of financial support in Kansas City for their preservation and reuse,” Lisa Briscoe, Historic KC executive director, said in a statement accompanying the release.

The buildings and places in greater downtown and the planned corridor of the Main Street streetcar extension included on the endangered list are:

Katz Drug Store, 3948 Main. While a St. Louis developer has submitted a plan to the city to renovate the historic drug store at Westport and Main as part of a larger 192-unit apartment project, the success of the proposal still relies on tax incentives from the city.

After meeting with the developer, Historic KC has endorsed the project, describing the Katz preservation as a high priority for the organization.

The iconic Katz Drug Store opened in 1934 at Westport and Main streets. (Drone photo courtesy Chris Stritzel)

“We are willing to accept that this may entail additional construction in or around the historic building, and if properly done that is a price we believe can be paid,” according to the release.

–Main Street Corridor. The Main Street corridor from Crown Center to the Country Club Plaza has attracted substantial investment interest in anticipation of the extension of the streetcar, which is expected to begin operations in early 2025.

The fate of older buildings along Main is the concern of Historic KC including properties at the intersections of 31st, Linwood and 39th streets.

“As the corridor continues to be successful there will be more pressure on the historic buildings to be demolished to make way for large-scale development projects,” according to the release.

Of particular concern is a group of buildings on the northeast corner of 31st and Main owned by an entity controlled by Price Management Co.

The release noted the firm has a reputation for demolishing older structures including the Green Gables apartment buildings designed by renowned architect Nelle Peters west of the Plaza in 2016.

The northeast corner of 31st and Main where the 115 year-old Jeserich building is located has been acquired along the streetcar extension route.

–Historic Theaters. The preservation organization noted that theaters suffered greatly during the Covid pandemic. It singled out the historic Mainstreet Theater at 1400 Main, which had been operated by Alamo Drafthouse before being closed by the pandemic.

Alamo decided not to reopen and now B&B Theatres of Liberty has announced it plans to reopen and operate the theater.

“Our hope is placing historic theaters of all types on the Most Endangered Places List is to encourage the community to support your local theater to keep them alive,” according the release.

–The 18th & Vine Historic District. Historic KC noted that while substantial public investment has been made in the area, it has “long suffered from a lack of private investment and building neglect.”

The endangered designation stated that several historic buildings have been demolished since 1991, when the 18th & Vine redevelopment plan was launched, and many more are vacant and deteriorating.

Specific buildings mentioned are The Kansas City Call complex at 1715-1723 E. 18th St. and the Holy Ghost New Testament Church, 1815 The Paseo.

The historic Attucks School at 1815 Woodland Ave. is being renovated as a major art center. It opened in 1905 to serve African-American public school students.

The designation does note the historic Crispus Attucks school building at 18th and Woodland is being renovated by a pair of Chicago artists as an arts and cultural center.

–The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist. This 80 year-old church at the northwest corner of 47th and Jefferson in the Plaza managed to dodge the development bullet a couple years ago when an apartment tower was proposed for the site, but is back in jeopardy again.

The congregation sold it to a developer in 2020 who is considering demolishing it to make way for a redevelopment project that includes the renovation of the former Jack Henry building next door into a fitness center.

“Any and all alternatives to demolition should be explored,” according to Historic KC.

–The Country Club Plaza Environs. Described as “the most influential comprehensively planned retail complex established in the U.S. before the mid-Twentieth Century,” Historic KC said the area had been threatened by development pressure including hotels and apartments in recent years.

The last big preservation battle at the Plaza was over a plan to raze the Balcony Building at 47th and Broadway.

The organization said it was involve in a planning process that ultimately led to the Midtown Plaza Area Plan ‘Bowl Concept’ that created new land use policies and limited the height of buildings in the core area of the Plaza.

“Covid-19 however, has sent retail real estate into a tailspin nationwide,” the organization warned in including the Plaza in its endangered list. It observed retail destinations such as the Plaza are “suffering the most.

“From major retailer closings to tenant shuffles, the Country Club Plaza is undergoing changes and has several vacant storefronts.

“The Plaza’s ability to successfully navigate the latest wave of changes will have an impact on retailers throughout the area and it will radiate out to the companies that have located their offices on or near the district and to the apartments around it.”

A video produced by Historic KC about its Most Endangered Places List can be found here.

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