South Leawood Hy-Vee shoppers remain in limbo after a packed but inconclusive public meeting Monday evening between the City Council and a representative of the grocery store chain.
The Hy-Vee executive said he now thinks the Leawood Plaza shopping center at 1220 State Line Road is too small to accommodate a state-of-the-art store, even if the city council retracts its opposition and allows publicly financed funding for interior renovations to the store.
Since its year-old request for a half-cent Community Improvement District sales tax to spruce up the nearly 30-year-old State Line store stalled over plans to use $1 million of the proceeds for interior renovations, which Leawood policy prohibits, Hy-Vee has changed its focus to building an entirely new store on the corner of 135th Street and Roe Avenue, Hy-Vee Assistant Vice President for Store Development and Real Estate Peter Hosch said Monday.
And while Iowa-based Hy-Vee has filed a plan with Leawood for the Roe store, that site has problems, too. The city has put in place a 90-day moratorium on new developments along 135th between State Line and Nall Avenue while it considers a comprehensive development plan for the area that will emphasize mixed-use projects and prohibit big-box stores like Hy-Vee envisions.
“I was surprised, because they basically dumped 122nd Street and said they were going to 135th and Roe,” Leawood City Administrator Scott Lambers said after the meeting. “If Hy-Vee wants a presence in Leawood, it’s going to be at 122nd Street. … That’s why I volunteered city staff to come up with a conceptual plan for Leawood Plaza. I hope they keep the door open.”
Most of the nearly 100 people who attended the council work session Monday evening seemed disappointed in the stalemate and the prospect of losing their neighborhood grocery. About a dozen people stayed for the formal council meeting that followed the work session and expressed themselves during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“If they move, I don’t know if I am going to follow them,” Virginia Stanzel said after the work session concluded. “I called the company, upset when I first learned they were going to close the store. I wasn’t told the same thing as I found out here. They tried to put the blame on the city. It doesn’t give me any hope.”
Hy-Vee owns its 60,000-square-foot store building in the Leawood Plaza center, while Botwin Family Partners owns the remainder of the attached center, and a bank owns its pad site in the parking lot. Hy-Vee’s Hosch reiterated a plan to close what he called the “underperforming” store on June 1.
Hy-Vee says its pharmacy will remain open after that date, however, and the company is working to lease and remodel the former Blockbuster space nearby and move the pharmacy there, perhaps as soon as September.
Leawood Plaza owner Diane Botwin spoke at Monday’s meeting, saying she was willing to sell her share of the center to Hy-Vee, to buy its building or to consider razing the center to allow Hy-Vee to build its next-generation store.
But Hosch said Hy-Vee is not in the development business and that the site is too small to provide sufficient parking for both customers and the additional workers who would run the restaurants and other labor-intensive departments Hy-Vee wants to have in its new, 90,000-square-foot stores.
Hosch said Leawood Plaza could not accommodate both a new grocery store and the additional merchants needed to provide commercial synergy. Additionally, he said, the location on the Kansas side of State Line competitively hurts Hy-Vee’s preference to have its own gas stations adjacent to its grocery stores, which offer “fuel point” discounts to shoppers. Kansas taxes typically make gasoline 5 or 6 cents per gallon higher than Missouri.
Since establishing a CID policy in 2012, none of the financing districts have been approved by the Leawood City Council. Camelot Court on the northeast corner of 119th Street and Roe Avenue has a request for one that will come up at the council’s June 2 meeting. Ranch Mart Shopping Center at 95th Street and Mission Road has expressed interest in a CID but has yet to make a formal proposal.
Councilman Andrew Osman said the city needs to be careful in setting a precedent.
“No one wants to lose Hy-Vee,” Osman said during the work session. “This is a prime example of an area that needs to be redeveloped, whether Hy-Vee stays or leaves. It’s very important to establish policy and show no favoritism to anyone. We can’t say because Hy-Vee is leaving we’ll throw out more money. Ranchmart is in the same condition. We can’t give 100 percent (of renovation costs) to one and then say to another developer ‘You get 50 percent.’ We need to think of a policy so developers know what to expect.
“It will be an interesting next couple of months,” Osman said.
Also Monday, the City Council approved a final plan for a dog park adjacent to the current Leawood City Park, 10601 Lee Blvd., and it is expected to open July 1.
Parks and Recreation Director Chris Claxton said the Hallbrook Office corporation had donated five acres of land, located in the flood plain along Indian Creek, for the city for use as a dog park. Now the city needs to install fencing and fix the approaches to the footbridge over the creek for use by the disabled. Claxton said $230,000 had been budgeted for the work, but she thinks it can be done for less.
She said the city hoped to have a “soft opening” on or about July 1, and a grand opening sometime later. The park will have two fenced areas, one for small dogs — defined as 25 pounds or less — and another for large dogs. It will also have a water fountain with a ground-level bowl from which dogs may drink.