Published December 20th, 2023 at 12:30 PM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
The prospective new owners of the Country Club Plaza envision adding housing, an upscale hotel, diverse retailers and better security as part of their formula for returning the area to its glory days, according to Mayor Quinton Lucas.
Lucas and top city officials traveled to Dallas Tuesday to meet with Ray Washburne and other officials at HP Village Partners, the entity that anticipates completing its purchase of the Plaza early in the new year.
“We have a potential group that’s excited about the Plaza and understand the diversity of uses and customers we need for long-term vibrancy there,” the mayor said.
“They have more interest in the Plaza than I’ve heard in eight years…They have a desire to bring it back to being a real centerpiece of Kansas City, more like the Plaza of the Nineties.”
Lucas, City Manager Brian Platt, Tom Porter, chairman of the PIEA, a city development agency, and Morgan Said, the mayor’s chief of staff, participated in five hours of meetings at the Highland Park Village shopping center in Dallas.
“The idea was to see Highland Park Village, which is a comparable place to the Country Club Plaza but much smaller,” he said. “There was incredible bustle in the district.
“They have a mix of local brands with luxury brands, stores we don’t have in Kansas City, but they also have Christmas stores selling knick knacks and a boot store.”
Highland Park Village is located in an upscale neighborhood of Dallas near Southern Methodist University. The shopping center, which is a National Historic Landmark, was purchased by Washburne and his partners in 2009.
Since then, the new owners have invested substantially in the property and attracted many luxury retailers, some unique to Texas, according to reports in the Dallas press.
Washburne’s wife, Heather Hill, is a descendent of legendary Texas oil magnate H.L. Hunt, the father of Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt. She, along with Stephen Summers and Elisa Summers make up HP Village Partners, according to Dallas press reports.
One of the first items the HP Village Park officials mentioned to the city delegation was a desire to add housing to the core of the Plaza, Lucas said.
“They were very interested in housing opportunities within the (Plaza) Bowl,” he said. “Not Two Light or Three Light, they want to stay within the spirit of the zoning.”
A potential location for a mixed-use project that could include housing was the vacant land where a Nordstrom department store had been proposed along Jefferson Street on the Plaza’s west edge.
Lucas said HP Village Partners want to tackle the redevelopment of that property relatively soon once the transaction is completed. One thing they’re not interested in is a large department store, the mayor said.
“They have a number of ideas,” he said. “They suggested either retail users, potential office and they’re interested in multi-family.”
HP Village Partners has been doing its homework reviewing the Plaza, examining its aging buildings and infrastructure in order to determine how much investment will be necessary to return them to good condition.
Among the ideas is better utilizing the existing space at the Plaza, perhaps subdividing some of the larger retail spaces to allow more stores including a possible grocer.
Highland Park Village opened in 1931, the Plaza in 1923. The Texas shopping center is much smaller than the Plaza, but does share a similar Spanish architectural style.
Lucas said HP Village has no interest in having the Plaza declared a historic district, but wants to explore potential tax credits and other incentives to help renovate properties.
The prospective owners also don’t support converting streets to pedestrian-only corridors, an idea suggested by Urban Lab KC, an ad hoc group devoted to improving urban design in Kansas City.
“One of the juicier items, they don’t believe you need to pedestrianize streets to create a more favorable pedestrian environment,” Lucas said. “They believe the use of pavers and other improvements can make it more pedestrian friendly.”
The prospective new owners envision a “European Village” experience at the Plaza.
As for the long-term infrastructure needs, HP Village officials believe a potential community improvement district could be created to generate revenues. The Plaza already has a transportation district that charges a one-cent sales tax to maintain its garages.
The HP Village officials also wanted to know what the city’s plans are for reinvesting in the area.
“The first thing they want from the city is an understanding of the state of the underground infrastructure,” he said. “They’re concerned about if the city wants to dig anything up.”
As for security, the prospective owners understand it’s a topic of concern.
The mayor said HP Village intends to have a stronger private security presence as well as work closely with the Kansas City Police Department. Company representatives also have met with the Police Foundation of Kansas City, a nonprofit group founded to support police.
“There’s a clear understanding that part of the the Plaza’s future is the question of how do you reinstate the strong security presence which has been wanting in recent years,” the mayor said.
Finally, the mayor said HP Village Partners is excited about the opening of the streetcar in 2025 and Kansas City hosting the World Cup soccer tournament in 2026.
“They clearly want to be, if not the front porch, the space where visitors see the best of Kansas City,” Lucas said.