The first two towers in the $4.45 billion Cerner Trails campus in Kansas City reached their summits Friday with a topping-out ceremony.
J.E. Dunn Construction Co. is building the first phase of the 4.7 million-square-foot development at the site of the former Bannister Mall and Benjamin Stables shopping centers.
Both towers are expected to be completed this year and open early in 2017.
In addition to 15 floors of office space and other standard features such as a gym, dining hall and cafe, Cerner is adding features for its software engineers in these buildings.
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Each of more than a dozen “neighborhood nodes” will have its own personality to help the software engineers be innovative and productive, said Mike Nill, chief operating officer at Cerner. These will include a library, a maker space for hands-on tinkering, a gaming area and a think tank.
“These buildings are going to be awesome,” said Nill, who pointed out that he’s a software engineer, too. “I can’t wait to move in myself.”
Proclaimed the largest economic development in Missouri’s history, Cerner’s sprawling campus is a massive 11-year undertaking expected to open its last tower in 2025.
“It’s about jobs surrounded by a strong neighborhood,” Kansas City Mayor Sly James said at the ceremony.
Cerner said it eventually will add as many as 16,000 employees at the site, roughly doubling its employment from the November 2014 groundbreaking ceremony on this first phase.
Dunn started work on the first two towers last summer. These first buildings are expected to accommodate up to 3,500 workers.
Friday’s ceremony marked the moment work reached the apex of the first two structures. Cerner plans 16 buildings in all, with 3.7 million square feet of office space.
Other structures in the plan include a conference and training center, data center, hotel, retail locations, medical clinic and day care center.
Cerner, the North Kansas City-based health care information company, said it needs the development to keep up with its rapidly growing business. The company earned $539 million last year from $4.43 billion in business, mostly helping hospitals and other parts of the nation’s health care system incorporate electronic records into their operations.
Customers already have booked a record $5.4 billion in additional business with Cerner.
Financing for the campus has come mostly from private backers but includes a substantial helping of public support. Last week, Kansas City’s Tax Increment Financing Commission approved nearly $1.1 billion in funding for the project.
Extending the public support helped resolve a community eyesore, the vacated grounds of the shopping centers.
“This is transforming a difficult area,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said at the event. “Lots of projects looked at what you could do with Bannister Mall.”
Cerner’s Trails campus is expected to attract additional commercial development in south Kansas City, as well as spur housing and retail projects that will boost resources for local schools.
“I’ve lived out here 49 years and we’ve lost many of our retail outlets. I have to drive across town to shop sometimes,” said John Sharp, former city councilman for the Sixth District. “It will spark a retail revival in the Hickman Mills School District.”
The campus site was declared blighted in the tax increment financing agreement.
Cerner also operates a campus in Wyandotte County.