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Plan to Rebuild Barney Allis Plaza Revived by Council

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(Updated Sept. 3. Supporters of rebuilding Barney Allis Plaza and its underground garage hope to obtain City Council approval next March to fund the estimated $61.7 million project, the Downtown Council board was told today.

The board was presented with a schedule for the proposed Barney Allis project by Bill Crandall, a consultant for the city. It anticipates the Council approving funding for the initial project design in mid-December.

If full funding is authorized in March, construction would begin in April 2021 with the project completed in Spring 2023, according to the schedule.) 

(Updated Aug. 27. The full City Council approved resuming the planning process to rebuild Barney Allis Plaza and its underground garage by an 8-4 vote.)

By Kevin Collison

The planning process for rebuilding Barney Allis Plaza and its crumbling garage, believed dead a month ago at City Hall, may be revived this week with the price tag for the next step slashed substantially.

The City Council Finance Committee is expected to take up a revised proposal Wednesday that would cut the cost of planning for the next step of rebuilding Barney Allis from about $1 million to $400,000.

“This substitute ordinance will be considerably less expensive and provides for an impact management plan during construction,” said Bill Crandall, a consultant for the city.

In May, the Finance Committee voted to shelve the planning process for an estimated $61.7 million Barney Allis project. It would rebuild and lower the 65 year-old plaza to street level, and construct a new 400-space garage beneath it.

The committee voted instead to spend about $1.6 million to repair the upper two levels of the garage, about 600 spaces, to keep it operating the next two- to three years.

That move was criticized by supporters of rebuilding Barney Allis as a band-aid approach to its long-term viability. In April, an engineering report recommended the city-owned Plaza and garage be closed immediately because of its deteriorating condition.

An effort to revive the planning process at the Finance Committee early last month failed on a 3-3 vote.

Braces have been installed to shore-up the deteriorating lower levels of the Barney Allis Plaza underground garage. (Photo from TranSystems report)

Since then however, Councilman Kevin McManus, who voted against the measure, has decided to reintroduce and support the proposed next step after its cost was cut by more than half.

The savings were achieved by eliminating a $150,000 stipend that was to have been paid to each of four competing design-build teams to prepare a new plan for the Plaza, a total of $600,000.

The revised ordinance will reopen the request for qualifications to all interested companies and will not provide a stipend to compensate them for their work. The firm selected will receive a fee for its proposal.

The ordinance also calls for a management plan to address parking during demolition and reconstruction of the Plaza and garage. It also will develop a comprehensive alternative parking strategy for hotel and convention businesses.

Finally, the city will continue to work towards creating a public-private partnership to build a proposed garage at 1200 Broadway.

The city purchased what’s now a surface lot at that location last winter with the idea of building a garage there. Backers say it would help reduce the size of the more costly underground garage beneath Barney Allis.

Kansas City Southern, which is next door to the lot, has an interest in partnering on a garage as part of a potential expansion of its headquarters.

Adding support to the push for a complete rebuild of Barney Allis is the current economic climate due to Covid-19, Crandall observed.

Barney Allis Plaza was described in a 2018 report by the Urban Land Institute as an unwelcoming place.

Right now, the hotel and convention industry are in the doldrums, easing the impact of potentially losing all that parking during the construction period. Also, construction costs could be lower as firms are competing more sharply for business during the downturn.

“The whole industry is suffering which makes it an opportune time to do this,” he said.

Even if the Committee endorses the money for the next planning step and the full Council supports the measure, one more planning step would be required, determining the maximum price, and then identifying the funds to actually build the project.

Some Council members have suggested the federal government may decide to invest more money in infrastructure projects to help stimulate the economy.

They believe having a shovel-ready Barney Allis Plaza project teed up could help the city take advantage of potential help from Washington.

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