Will downtown Kansas City ever get a Target? Inquiries have been made

Downtown Kansas City resident Cathy Bourne rarely uses her car.

When she needs groceries, she walks to Cosentino’s. When she wants wine, she rides the streetcar to Cellar Rat. And Bourne loves shopping for clothes and shoes at Halls in Crown Center.

But when it comes to stocking up on everyday essentials such as toilet paper, Bourne has to drive 15 minutes to Target in Mission.

“If there was a Target off the streetcar, I truly could go carless and all my money would be spent in Kansas City,” she says.

Downtown has a pharmacy, banks, dry cleaning, a movie theater, restaurants and coffee shops — but many residents say the area would be even more livable if it had a store that sold household products such as electronics, clothing, sporting goods and decor. Specifically, Target.

“Target is tops on the wish list I hear from downtown residents,” says Jared Campbell, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. His hope is that Target will consider adding a small-format store at the base of Three Light, a residential high-rise Cordish Co. is planning to build just west of Two Light Luxury Apartments in the Power & Light District.

Target currently operates 59 small-format stores in densely populated urban and suburban areas, as well as near college campuses. The retail chain plans to have 130 such stores by the end of 2019 — but a spokesperson Erin Conroy says Target has no store news to share with Kansas City customers.

Sean O’Byrne, vice president of business development at the Downtown Council of Kansas City, has been trying to get Target to open a store in the city center since 2000, when fewer than 10,000 people lived there.

O’Byrne, who was working in commercial real estate at the time, reached out to Target to ask if the company would consider a store in downtown Kansas City.

“They sent me back a very polite two-sentence letter,” he said. “ ‘Thank you for your inquiry. We’re not interested.’ 

Herald Square baby clothes
New Yorkers can now buy baby gear at a new small-format Target in Herald Square. The retailer is expanding its small-format stores through 2019. Target

O’Byrne says Target might want to reconsider now that downtown’s residential population is growing at a rapid rate. More than 25,000 people live in the area bordered by the Missouri River, 31st Street, the state line and the 18th & Vine Jazz District. O’Byrne expects the population to reach 37,000 by 2025.

Population density is one of many factors that Target uses to pick locations for new stores, Conroy says. She says other factors include “the needs of guests in the neighborhood and the ability to find a space that’s the right fit for the community.”

In 2015, Target opened an 18,000-square-foot store in San Diego’s eclectic South Park neighborhood, a residential community of 92,000 people.

The store is “wildly successful,” says Stefanie Benvenuto, public affairs director for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, in part because Target designed the store with the community in mind.

“They took stock of exactly what was in the neighborhood, and didn’t duplicate small businesses,” Benvenuto says.

Because South Park already had a thriving pet shop, Target opted not to stock lots of dog food or cat toys. That approach was “mutually beneficial,” Benvenuto says, and now Target is another anchor for the walkable, family-friendly community.

UT exterior
Target opened a small-format store near the University of Texas at Austin in 2017. The retailer currently operates 59 small-format stores and plans to add more than 70 over the next two years. Erich Schlegel AP Images for Target

Kansas City needs more retail downtown, says Greg Flisram, senior vice president of business and real estate development at the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City.

Flisram says the city would like to add a general merchandise retailer (such as Target) as well as a second grocery store downtown. He adds that attracting retail has been difficult because many companies are focusing on online sales, not brick-and-mortar shops.

Flisram, who used to live downtown, says that if residents there had more shopping options, they might resist the siren call of the suburbs.

“One of the things that drove us out was that we had to go far out to do our weekly shopping trip,” he says. “It became a convenience thing.”

Downtown resident Tommy Wilson says he’d rarely have to leave the city center if there were a Target nearby. Wilson, an urban planner for the Downtown Council, has spent some time thinking about where a small-format Target store might go.

It would have to be on the streetcar line and close to existing retail, Wilson says. He could picture a Target at the base of a high-rise apartment building such as Three Light, on the vacant lot at 13th and Grand, or in a new mixed-use development at Washington Square Park. Wilson says the retailer could also retrofit the first floor of an existing skyscraper such as One Kansas City Place or City Center Square.

UNC groceries
In 2017, Target opened a small-format store near The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Target’s 59 small-format stores are located in dense urban and suburban areas as well as on college campuses. Sara Davis AP Images for Target

David Johnson, who lives in the Crossroads Arts District and is chairman of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, loves the idea of a Target on the streetcar line.

“If you think about where the streetcar is extending, to the riverfront and all the way south to UMKC, there isn’t a Target anywhere in that area,” Johnson says. “You have to drive to Mission or Ward Parkway (Center).”

Johnson would want the store to open in the Central Business District — not in his neighborhood.

“I wouldn’t want the Target to come to the Crossroads,” he adds, because “in the Crossroads, we don’t have any chains.”

In recent Facebook and Twitter posts, The Star asked readers which stores they wished would open in downtown Kansas City. Target was the No. 1 most requested store. Others said they wanted a Trader Joe’s, Hy-Vee, QuikTrip, more fast food options, a pharmacy closer to the Crossroads and extended hours for existing downtown businesses such as CVS.

Some said chains have no place in the heart of the city.

“If you want a neighborhood full of corporate chains you should move out of the city,” Corey Hodge wrote on Facebook.

Replied Kathleen Hoover: “Those suburban big box stores can stay in suburbia.”

But many argued that a Target would inspire more people to move downtown — and anchor more locally owned businesses.

“An urban Target in the north part of the loop, where all those parking lots are around 8th and Wyandotte, would be great,” says downtown resident Andres Kodaka. “We could even make those three blocks that are just parking lots a small shopping center with locally owned shops.”

For now, a downtown Kansas City Target is a fantasy for residents who get by ordering household essentials from Amazon, buying in bulk at Costco or hopping on the highway to shop in the suburbs.

Recently, O’Byrne needed to buy ping pong balls for his kids, so he drove 20 minutes from his downtown apartment to the Target at Ward Parkway Center. He hopes that won’t always be necessary.

“Target represents that watershed moment” for downtown retail, O’Byrne says. “Within a couple years, we’re going to get there.”