Coleen Babcock and her husband scouted all over Johnson County for an ideal location for their comfort food restaurant, but fell in love with downtown Overland Park, where they opened Ambrosia Café in October.
“It’s got that small town feel,” Babcock says of the downtown market district. “It’s about the mom and pop shops that are already here. The unique and the eclectic.”
Now she worries that plans for a five-story office and entertainment complex nearby could jeopardize what gives downtown Overland Park its quaint character and atmosphere.
“In my opinion it ruins the whole feel of downtown Overland Park,” Babcock said of the proposed Edison OP project. “It’s the height of the project, the whole dimension of it.”
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But Tim Crough, who three years ago opened the fitness center Move Right KC on West 79th Street, sees the momentum from four apartment construction projects downtown and believes Edison OP only enhances that.
“I’m excited about the growth here and the energy,” he said. “We need class A office space in my opinion…More office space I think will benefit me as a business owner down here.”
This clash of visions for downtown Overland Park — preserving the existing ambiance vs. creating a more dense urban environment — is at the heart of the debate over the $48.5 million Edison project.
In early December, the Overland Park Planning Commission heard from nearly a dozen opponents but unanimously endorsed the development plan for the five-story building with office space and restaurants, a two-story food court, outdoor plaza, a small surface lot and a four-story parking garage. The project comes up for its first review Monday night by the Overland Park City Council.
It would be built between West 80th and 81st streets and between Marty Street and Overland Park Drive, south of the farmer’s market. The proposal involves removing a strip shopping center on 80th Street and the newer portion of the closed Overland Park Presbyterian Church. The original 1920s church front would remain.
Monday night’s City Council meeting includes several public hearings for the proposed Edison OP, including establishing the tax increment financing district boundaries. But the final TIF details, to cover the parking garage cost, will require more hearings and approvals.
The TIF application indicates that in this $48.5 million redevelopment, the private investment would total $39.6 million, with $6.1 million in tax increment financing and $2.8 million from a community improvement district tax.
The complex is the brainchild of Tim Barton, founder of the Johnson County freight brokerage firm Freightquote, which he sold in 2015. He now has homes in Austin, Texas and Leawood.
He says he, too, fell in love with downtown Overland Park and wants to enhance, not hurt, the district, by preserving what is truly historic but replacing what is deteriorating and outdated.
Barton said the office project needs to be five stories to be financially viable, and it will be on the same scale as the 219-unit Vue Apartment building, under construction nearby.
“In essence, Johnson County lacks a cool area like you can find in Missouri,” he said, adding that his office project can help bring something of the flavor of River Market or the Crossroads to Overland Park. He said this live-work-play environment is exactly what was envisioned in Overland Park’s “Vision Metcalf” plan.
The project is intended to bring 400 office workers downtown during the day, while providing entertainment attractions, including an outdoor courtyard, to appeal to families on nights and weekends. The parking garage’s northern facade would feature a large TV screen, with seating for those attending events and movies. The 329-space garage would provide free public parking in off-peak hours and could serve the farmer’s market, which needs more parking.
Several residents and merchants gathered Thursday at the Ambrosia Café and clearly had differing views of the project.
Kelly Morrow said he moved to 81st and Hardy streets from Gardner a few years ago because he’s always enjoyed downtown Overland Park.
He now worries about “changing the harmony of downtown. These big buildings are coming in. They’re very modern.”
He’d prefer to keep more of what he considers the historic character, as was done with the red-brick Phoenix office building on Santa Fe Drive. Morrow and Diana Barnes, who has lived in a Santa Fe Drive condo since 1994, also worry about traffic congestion, not just from these office tenants but also all the new apartment units.
The Edison’s outdoor courtyard has been likened to downtown Kansas City Power & Light District’s popular outdoor “living room.” Barnes said if she wanted Power & Light, she’d move to downtown Kansas City.
Babcock said between 130 and 150 people, mostly restaurant customers, have signed a petition raising concerns about the project’s size.
But several merchants were very enthusiastic about Edison, seeing all the new customers as positive for business.
Sean Barnard’s business, Bambou Salon and Spa, is in a strip shopping center that Barton bought in the 7300 block of West 80th Street and plans to tear down for Edison.
Barnard said the shopping center was in deplorable condition. The Edison team is helping him move his salon in February just up the street to the restored Overland Park State Bank, built in 1911. So that, Barnard said, illustrates Barton’s commitment to preserving history in the area while also ensuring its future success.
Eric Kratty, who owns World Class Unlimited, a tax services firm, has watched downtown Overland Park evolve since 2004 and has served on the downtown Overland Park Partnership board since 2011.
He takes issue with calling downtown Overland Park “historic,” noting that much of it is less than 50 years old. The farmer’s market has operated since 1982 and the Clock Tower Plaza, which has an old-timey feel, was dedicated in the early 1990s.
He says the partnership stopped branding downtown as “historic” about five years ago “because we wanted to emphasize a cool place to be….We want to be the hip place for people to come to.”
He envisions Edison as a great gathering place for things like the Royals’ World Series run.
“We’re not trying to recreate something down here that already exists in Kansas City,” he said. “I think we’re trying to be our own. It’s happening organically.”