Published September 16th, 2022 at 3:00 PM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
Blue Cross Blue Shield is relocating its headquarters and more than 1,000 employees a half-mile north to occupy the 18-story office tower originally built for Waddell & Reed at 14th and Baltimore, company officials announced today.
The move, long speculated after the Waddell deal collapsed when the firm was sold in late 2020, will bring what’s also called Blue KC to the heart of downtown after being located at 2301 Main next to Washington Square Park.
Officials at the health insurance firm, which employs 1,400 people in the metro, a mix of office and remote workers, described the decision to occupy the 18-story tower, rebranded 1400KC, as “serendipitous.”
“We have been a part of the Kansas City community for almost 85 years and are dedicated to being here for years to come,’ Erin Stucky, Blue KC president and CEO, said in a statement.
“This move ensures we are best positioned to support our customers and members now and well into the future.
“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.”
The $148 million 1400KC project was designed with eight-stories of office space above a 10-story, 900-space garage. It was scheduled to be completed 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 ultimately received a 15-year property tax abatement, six years at 75 percent and nine years at 37.5 percent 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 comprised of Burns & McDonnell and Financial Holding Corp., an entity controlled by Michael Merriman.
Blue KC has signed a 15-year lease and plans to relocate to the building in early 2025.
While Blue KC explored other options, including 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 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 home 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 eight-story headquarters built in 1979 across from Union Station, there have been several studies conducted in recent years for the potential redevelopment of both the parking lot now owned by Blue KC and Washington Square Park.
At one point, when the Kansas City Royals were exploring options in the early 2000s, a preliminary plan was pitched that suggested the lot and the park be combined as the site of a new ballpark.
A redevelopment concept for the park that 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, VanTrust Real Estate, a prominent local development firm, was hired by Union Station 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.