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KC Council Committee Supports Crown Center Office Tower Near Streetcar Stop Union Hill Neighbors Oppose Design, Tax Breaks

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Above image credit: The proposed Fidelity Security Life Insurance tower looking south from Grand Boulevard. (Rendering | BNIM)
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Fidelity Security Life’s proposed 11-story headquarters project at 27th and Main streets had its incentive request endorsed unanimously Wednesday by a City Council committee over the objections of the nearby Union Hill neighborhood.

The $83.4 development would be located on a 2.7-acre site currently owned by Crown Center Redevelopment, and would be the first new office project on the Crown Center campus since the Shook Hardy & Bacon headquarters was completed in 2003.

The 155,000-square-foot building would house 300 employees of Fidelity Security Life Insurance (FSL), which is currently headquartered a few blocks away at 3130 Broadway. About 50,000 square feet would remain as speculative office space.

The developer, VanTrust Real Estate, is seeking a 15-year property tax reduction — 10 years at 70%, five years at 30% — and a sales tax exemption on construction materials. The tax break package was valued at $9 million.

Councilman Lee Barnes, Jr., chairman of the council’s Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee, said the incentive request through the Chapter 100 program was a worthwhile investment.

“We have to have some conversation about the potential of the loss of a viable, strong company that’s been in this city for 50 years,” Barnes said.

“That’s what the tool is for, the potential for us to keep a viable company that’s here that’s looking to even grow.”

Map of the 2.7 acre site of the proposed FSL office tower
The 2.7 acre site of the proposed FSL office tower was listed for sale by Crown Center Redevelopment three years ago. (Map | EDC application)

Union Hill neighborhood representatives, however, said the project should not be approved for tax incentives before a more complete design was reviewed, saying it failed to take full advantage of the planned streetcar stop at 27th Street and pedestrian needs.

There also were objections to the building’s height blocking neighborhood views of Liberty Memorial, although the property always has been contemplated for a building of that scale in the Crown Center master plan.

“The Union Hill association enthusiastically supports sustainable, pedestrian-friendly, accessible, transit oriented development at this site,” said Adam Gebhardt.

“It’s disappointing that our hopes are not satisfied by the proposed projects and we must collectively oppose the approval of Chapter 100 request and the project plans proposed to date.”

The incentive request also was opposed by representatives of the Kansas City Public School District and the KC Public Library, saying the incentives would reduce the amount of new property tax revenues available from the project to their jurisdictions during the 15-year duration.

Kathleen Pointer of the school district also noted much of the incentive was to be used to build the project garage. The building design calls for six levels of office space above a five-level, 400-space garage.

“The city has to start requiring developers to engage in a shared parking agreement,” she said. “This project is located feet from a garage that is often empty during the weekday located on seller’s property, Crown Center.”

Crown Center is selling the development site for $6.9 million.

The developer estimated the project, with the property tax reduction, would generate  $9.2 million in revenues for the city and taxing jurisdictions over the 15-year life of the incentive deal. Without the project, the property would generate $946,000 during the same period.

Attorney David Frantze, who represented the developer, said clawbacks in the agreement guarantee maintaining the payroll of the FSL employees, which average $82,500, and a minimum $75 million capital investment.

The proposed 15-story Fidelity Security Life Insurance project at 27th and Main
The proposed 15-story Fidelity Security Life Insurance project at 27th and Main looking south. (Rendering | BNIM)

The funding would be $20.8 million in owner equity and $62.5 million in loans.

Frantze also said the quality of the building’s design and its location will help it command rents at $45 per square foot, the highest in the city, according to his research.

“What this will do is build a market beyond what currently exists in the city and those increase revenues will over time result in increased property values for the benefit of the city and all taxing jurisdictions, ” he said.

The design architect for the project is Pei Cobb Freed, a renowned national firm, and local firm BNIM is the architect of record. HOK is listed as the tenant architect.

Henry Cobb, a founding partner at Pei Cobb, designed 2600 Grand, a 14-story office tower that opened on the Crown Center campus in 1990. He also designed the nearby Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City headquarters that opened in 2008.

All that said, one Union Hill neighbor criticized the design, saying it was more suitable for a suburban office park.

“This site is one of the most desirable available in Midtown Kansas City,” said Jim Edsel. “I also contend the proposed project plan does not fulfill the promise of the site.

“The proposed projct is a more suburban solution to an urban site … I’d expect to see this design proposed in Corporate Woods.”

The incentive package now goes to the full City Council for final consideration, probably next week. The entire development still must go through rezoning and be considered by the City Plan Commission.

If the final development plan is approved by the council, construction would likely begin in early fall 2022 with completion in 22 months.

Flatland contributor Kevin Collison is the founder of CityScene KC, an online source for downtown news and issues.

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