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Cerner officially launches its $4.3 billion Three Trails office campus

Updated: 2014-01-18T03:28:22Z

By KEVIN COLLISON

The Kansas City Star

Cerner Corp. on Friday officially launched its $4.3 billion Three Trails office campus, saying the first 1,500 of what are expected to be up to 15,000 new employees should be working there by 2016.

“We’re very excited to be investing in Kansas City,” Cerner president Zane Burke said. “This is creating brand new jobs for our local economy.

“The project will serve as the hub of innovation to improve the health care and wellness of the communities we serve.”

At a news conference attended by Gov. Jay Nixon and Mayor Sly James, Burke described the new 4.1 million-square-foot campus, which will be built in phases over 10 years, as the largest in Missouri. It will be on the site of the former Bannister Mall in south Kansas City.

“This might be one of the most exciting days in terms of economic development during my time in office,” James said. “This is a historic moment in our city.”

Officials also think it will help close a troubled chapter in south Kansas City.

Bannister Mall was one of the most popular retail centers in the metro when it opened at Interstate 435 and Bannister Road in 1980, but by the 1990s fear of crime, both real and perceived, had made it a potent symbol of racial tension. The mall finally closed in 2007.

An ambitious redevelopment deal was hatched for the site with a professional soccer stadium and new retail, but that plan fell through. It jumped the border in 2009 to the Village West development in Wyandotte County, becoming Sporting Park, home of Sporting Kansas City.

As part of that Village West deal, Cerner also built a 660,000-square-foot office campus for what are expected to be 4,000 new employees.

Cerner co-founders Cliff Illig and Neal Patterson, however, held on to the Bannister property they bought for the earlier deal. Cerner already has a major operation, its 235,000-square-foot Innovation Campus, in the former Marion Labs complex south of the now-demolished shopping center.

James noted the executives fulfilled a commitment to the Bannister area by moving forward with the new office development, called Three Trails.

“I know people felt abandoned when the stadium didn’t work,” the mayor said, “but this is absolute proof Cerner does what they say they’re going to do.”

Nixon, who intervened to help Cerner assemble the additional property required for the project, said the new jobs being created by Cerner will pay the salaries necessary for employees to buy homes and raise families.

“It was not long ago, the site for this project was the definition of blight, a mall in decline and empty parking lots,” the governor said. “It took a visionary company to change the destiny of this site.

“To say this project is a big deal is an understatement. This project is transformative and a defining moment for this region and the state.”

When fully completed in 2024, the Three Trails development is expected to include 11 office buildings totaling 4.1 million square feet, a 75,000-square-foot “Cerner Kids” day care center, two data centers, a service center and 370,000 square feet of retail.

By comparison, the Sprint campus, completed over three years in 2003, totals 3.9 million square feet and covers 200 acres in Overland Park. The total square footage of the Cerner plan also equals 31/2 One Kansas City Places, the city’s tallest skyscraper at 42 stories.

The Three Trails development is expected to provide jobs for 2,800 construction workers with an estimated payroll of $203.7 million through all 14 phases. Construction costs are estimated at $2.3 billion. The financing will cost $2 billion.

The $4.3 billion redevelopment plan includes a $1.63 billion tax incentive package approved by the city in October.

Burke said no architect or contractor had been selected yet for the project. He did say that the first phase, which calls for 578,500 square feet of new construction, including two office buildings and a service center, should be completed in 30 months.

As part of the development agreement, Cerner also will provide $6 million to help the Hickman Mills school district provide educational opportunities for its students to find jobs with the firm. An additional $2 million will be available for neighborhood improvements.

Cerner now has more than 8,700 employees in the metropolitan area, including 3,200 at the Innovation Campus next door to the new Three Trails development.

Councilman John Sharp, who along with Councilwoman Cindy Circo was singled out for particular praise by the mayor, predicted the Cerner office campus would boost other investment in the area.

“This project will not only bring Cerner jobs to the community but will also spur a rejuvenation of commercial retail services in the Bannister and Blue Ridge corridors,” Sharp said.

Illig, who along with Patterson and Paul Gorup founded Cerner in 1979 after a conversation on a Loose Park picnic table, described the Three Trails development as the latest installment in what he called a journey.

The health care technology giant, headquartered in North Kansas City, now has a global workforce of 13,000.

“Over the 30-plus years we’ve been here, there have been a lot of milestones for the company,” Illig said. “This project relates to what we do. Ultimately, we can’t do it without great people.

“Our preference is to grow in Kansas City. This is as big a statement as we can make about where we want our future.”

To reach Kevin Collison, call 816-234-4289 or send email to kcollison@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at kckansascity.

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