Twelve-story office tower is proposed for Country Club Plaza area

03/11/2014 11:20 AM

03/11/2014 9:16 PM

A developer is proposing a $78 million office tower at 46th Terrace and Pennsylvania Avenue, the first new office project pitched for the Country Club Plaza area since a controversial plan fell through three years ago.

The 12-story building is being pursued by Block Real Estate Services for a 1.5-acre location where the firm had proposed a hotel project last year. The land is now occupied by a 1950s apartment complex and is immediately north of the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist.

“Our goal is to not only build a building for users, but to create something unique,” said Ken Block, managing principal of Block Real Estate.

The 188,000-square-foot building is the first high-rise project pitched for the Plaza area since Highwoods Properties, the owner of the Plaza, dropped its plan in 2011 to build new offices for the Polsinelli law firm on the site of the Neptune Apartments at 333 W. 46th Terrace.

Polsinelli ended up being the anchor tenant required to complete the nearby Plaza Vista development, originally called the West Edge.

Block officials say they have learned the lesson of the failed Highwoods plan, which was fiercely opposed by the neighborhood, preservationists and a group of Plaza devotees called Friends of the Plaza, and have reached out to obtain their support before submitting their plan to City Hall.

Steve Block, a partner, has met with neighborhood groups and is leading the effort to win approval for the project at City Hall.

Block Real Estate plans to seek a 25-year property tax abatement from the city to assist with the development because of the additional cost involved developing the site.

The proposal is scheduled to be considered by the City Development Review Committee on March 19.

The 37-unit Victory Court Apartments at 4622 Pennsylvania would be demolished, and the project will include a six-level, 675-space garage with two levels underground. The eight levels of office space would be above the garage, bringing the total height to 12 stories. Block owns all the property necessary.

While the proposed Block office tower is about the same size as the Highwoods plan rejected three years ago, the developer believes it’s within the area reserved for high-rise buildings established by the city, satisfying the Plaza bowl concept. It would be immediately across Pennsylvania from the 10-story Valencia Place tower.

“We wanted to do a building that fits well with the Plaza and has a look that bigger cities are doing,” Ken Block said.

“We’ve got to provide opportunities for clients to get Class A office in Kansas City, and the Plaza is the place. A new building in the Plaza will attract and keep tenants and benefit retail and residences.”

Ken Block said the types of tenants the building would be marketed for include lawyers, accountants and other professionals. The developers would not start construction until about 50 percent of the space is leased. Several potential large tenants have expressed interest.

“Our goal is to get commitments over the next couple of months, begin construction by fall and open in early 2016,” he said.

The developers say they have obtained letters of support from the Friends of the Plaza and the neighborhood association.

The property does not require rezoning, according to the developer.

Erik Heitman, president of the Plaza-Westport Neighborhood Association, said the board informally endorsed the proposal after meeting with the developer.

The Friends of the Plaza sent a letter that offered qualified support. The organization, which spearheaded the successful campaign against the earlier Highwoods proposal, believes the developer will need an amendment to the Plaza Plan because of its height.

The group said it would support that amendment if it was satisfied the project would not significantly affect traffic in the area and a restaurant was included in the development. About 6,000 square feet has been reserved on the ground floor of the project along Pennsylvania for a potential restaurant.

“The devil is in the details, but up to this point, we’ve had constructive conversations with them,” said attorney Dan Cofran, a representative of the Friends of the Plaza. “We will look at the traffic study objectively.”

Steve Block said a study has been completed and found existing intersections near the project can handle the projected additional traffic. The developer also believes the building height is permissible within the area its located in the Plaza Plan.

Block said a new premium office tower is needed in the Plaza area for Kansas City to compete with Johnson County for office tenants.

“The Plaza is Kansas City’s answer to the greenfields of Johnson County,” he said. “It’s highly desirable for office users.”

The proposed new office tower was designed by Hoefer Wysocki Architecture and is intended to provide a contemporary alternative for Plaza office tenants.

Its most prominent feature would be a glass central tower that features a pitched roof. The garage also would be wrapped in glass and precast panels.

Although not wanting to mimic the Spanish-style architecture of the Plaza, the developers said the precast concrete exterior would reflect the color palette of the surrounding buildings.

“We’re not trying to do a Plaza-theme building,” said Steve Block, “but the base will be tied into the colors and looks of the Plaza.”

The main lobby would be on the southeast corner near the church. As part of the plan, the developers also would rebuild the sidewalk along Pennsylvania to the corner of 47th Street using limestone pavers and extensive landscaping.

Two garage entrances are proposed, one off a lane between the church and the office tower, the other on the north end of the building. J.E. Dunn Construction Co. has been hired to be the contractor.

Block Real Estate had proposed a luxury Hyatt hotel at the same site in 2012 and had begun the process of seeking tax incentives. But critics pounced on the idea of using incentives, saying a new hotel would cannibalize business from existing Plaza area hotels, and the firm eventually withdrew the plan.

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