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Developers plan major new park, housing in northeast Johnson County

As the sign says, it’s private property now — but someday much of this tract of the former Meadowbrook country club will be a public park. The area is in southern Prairie Village; this view (seen Thursday) looks east from the clubhouse.
As the sign says, it’s private property now — but someday much of this tract of the former Meadowbrook country club will be a public park. The area is in southern Prairie Village; this view (seen Thursday) looks east from the clubhouse. The Kansas City Star

Plans were unveiled Thursday to convert the site of what was the Meadowbrook Golf and Country Club into a major new park and residential development in northeast Johnson County.

The coveted 136-acre Prairie Village site, generally bounded by 91st and 95th streets, Nall and Roe avenues, has been the focus of redevelopment plans for more than a decade, each stymied by the economy, neighborhood or opposition from club members.

VanTrust Real Estate purchased the financially troubled country club from its members for $4.2 million in 2010. The golf course closed in October.

Officials from VanTrust, Johnson County and Prairie Village said Thursday that the centerpiece of the new redevelopment proposal, as indicated previously in The Kansas City Star, will be a 94-acre public park.

Preliminary plans call for Prairie Village to create a tax increment financing district to pay the developer for the parkland. The district will divert the additional property tax revenue created when VanTrust develops an adjacent 42-acre parcel.

The $12 million to $15 million from the TIF district will pay VanTrust for the acquisition of the parkland and cover capital improvements to the new park, which is yet to be named.

“There will be no tax increases,” said Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer. “This will fulfill a top priority of Prairie Village citizens — more green space — that we’ve never been able to accomplish without a tax increase before.”

Public “open houses” for people to ask questions and learn more details from officials will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 10 and March 11 at the Meadowbrook club house.

The Meadowbrook site is one of the largest green spaces in northeast Johnson County. The park, on the north part of the site, would be slightly larger than Kansas City’s Loose Park, which covers 75 acres. Compared with other Johnson County parks, the Meadowbrook location would be larger than Antioch Park but much smaller than Shawnee Mission Park.

If the plans proceed, the southern half of the property would be filled by two neighborhoods of townhomes, an area of luxury apartments, a couple of blocks of single-family homes, and a senior living center at the southwest corner.

Plans also picture a boutique inn at the center of the site, which would include several lakes.

“No public dollars will be used for the private development,” said Quinn Bennion, city administrator of Prairie Village. “But we will get financing to use for acquisition of the parkland.”

Planners said a series of public open houses and neighborhood and city hall meetings will be held between now and the fall. People could be using the park by 2017, said Rich Muller, vice president of VanTrust Real Estate.

The park, envisioned with more than 3 miles of walking trails, also includes a community center proposed for the existing clubhouse, located at the northwest corner of the property.

George Schlagel, board chairman of the Johnson County Park & Recreation District, said the new park, much needed for the northeast part of the county, fits perfectly with the the county’s master plan.

“What you want in this park will be taken very seriously,” Schlagel said, adding that its acquisition would be easily managed by the county. The proposal calls for the Johnson County Park & Recreation District to maintain the Meadowbrook park.

Conceptual renderings introduced Thursday at the Meadowbrook clubhouse are the latest in a series of proposals that were intended to save or re-use the country club site.

Financial troubles caused the Meadowbrook club to sell its property in 2010. It was bought by Caymus Real Estate, a predecessor company to VanTrust.

For the new proposal, city officials said, VanTrust proposed the public park to augment the company’s development plan for high-end residential housing of varying density on the rest of the site.

Muller said VanTrust had no estimate yet on the overall cost of the private housing developments nor a timetable for phasing in its construction.

The redevelopment plans for the housing require rezoning and public meetings. No rezoning is needed for the parkland.

The Caymus plan in 2010 had called for retaining the golf course rather than converting it to parkland. It also introduced the idea of building a senior residential project and condominiums.

Meadowbrook began life in 1930 as the Belle Air Country Club with an 18-hole golf course on land held by the family of its president, W. L. Bleier. Belle Air’s appeal was to “college men in particular” who had a desire for an inexpensive private golf course away from the crowds of public courses, Bleier said at the time.

Belle Air sold for $70,000 in 1947 and at that point had been opened to the public.

It sold again in 1953 for $257,500, this time to a group of businessmen led by Paul Berman, an attorney. They had 200 charter members ready for a return to private club status as the Meadowbrook Country Club.

The number of country clubs nationally had begun to grow after World War II. Many servicemen returned to civilian life with a taste for the golf they’d seen on military bases, according to an overview by the Club Managers Association of America. It said that “vast country club construction programs” of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s helped bring membership within the budgets of the middle class.

In 1979, the city of Prairie Village planned to buy the club, which would have required issuing $8.6 million in bonds. Voters rejected that plan decisively in a high-turnout election.

Older clubs began to suffer membership losses to newer venues. Meadowbrook’s financial struggles stemmed from declining membership, which fell short of the 300 or so it needed despite signing up 200 new members.

The economy also has taken its toll. A 2009 survey by the National Club Association found that many of the clubs planned to cut labor costs, defer capital projects and take other steps in the face of declining revenues and dues.

Others have found ways to stay open. For example, Homestead Country Club at 6510 Mission Road, built in 1952 and known primarily as a tennis club, sold six acres of its frontage property for development. That club is also in Prairie Village.

In 2005, Meadowbrook was juggling, but ultimately shelved, competing mixed-use redevelopment plans. One of them, by a group including developer Ron Gold and Steve Rose, then chairman of Sun Publications, called for high-rise luxury condos.

Another plan was proposed by Opus Northwest, a Minneapolis-based developer, as a mixed-use project.

In 2007, Opus returned with another plan, estimated to cost $125 million, which would have kept the clubhouse, redesigned the golf course, and added 130 to 175 condominium residences plus a 200-unit senior living complex.

Dave Harrison, now president of VanTrust Real Estate but then Opus vice president of real estate development, had presented the club with a purchase plan for $14.4 million. The 2008 economic collapse killed those efforts.

In 2009, another plan to save Meadowbrook called for a merger with Brookridge Country Club in Overland Park. That, too, fell through. Brookridge subsequently was purchased for $5.5 million and renovated by a California company.

Los Angeles-based Capital Foresight bought the 200-acre Brookridge property at Interstate 435 and Antioch Road, which included an 18-hole golf course, a nine-hole golf course, a swimming pool, a clubhouse and other amenities.

The Star’s Mark Davis contributed to this report.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com. Follow her online at kansascity.com/workplace and @kcstarstafford.

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