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There’s a really ‘big box’ in the Metcalf South replacement plan

The current Central Square plan includes a mix of shops, offices, residences and public spaces for both sides of 95th Street east of Metcalf Avenue — and a large “big box” store south of 95th Street, which some people don’t like.
The current Central Square plan includes a mix of shops, offices, residences and public spaces for both sides of 95th Street east of Metcalf Avenue — and a large “big box” store south of 95th Street, which some people don’t like. 95 Metcalf Properties Inc.

Some neighbors have expressed qualms, but developers say a “big box” store is essential to their rebirth plan for the defunct Metcalf South Shopping Center.

A 60-acre, $324 million revival project, dubbed Central Square, envisions shops, offices, residences and public spaces for both sides of 95th Street east of Metcalf Avenue. It’s a multi-use plan that dovetails with Overland Park’s broader “Vision Metcalf” guidelines.

But what about the huge 177,000-square-foot store that the proposal plants on the south side of 95th Street?

That’s bigger than the Sears store that is to remain at the south end of the property. It’s big enough that it would cover the mall’s north-end parking lot and part of the former Macy’s store.

Co-developer Owen Buckley, with Lane 4 Property Group, insists that a “large-format retailer is critical to attract shoppers back to this area.” He says it’s the draw to bring traffic to other tenants.

The Central Square plan, as submitted to the city of Overland Park, will be pored over in detail on Aug. 10 by the city’s planning commission. The public will be able to express opinions at that 1:30 p.m. meeting. Until Aug. 3, city staff will make no comments or recommendations about the plan.

But based on preliminary sketches, Central Square has generated public reaction, especially with conjecture that the megatenant could be a Wal-Mart.

In a February public meeting at the Matt Ross Community Center, Overland Park residents largely supported the Central Square vision, but not the prospect of a Wal-Mart. Speculation was fueled because the Kroenke Group, affiliated with the Walton family, is co-owner and co-developer of the property along with Lane 4. A few speakers made it clear that Wal-Mart wasn’t the kind of retail they envisioned.

Buckley won’t talk publicly about any specific retailer or prospective tenant. He said there are many possibilities among discount department stores “or the next Ikea or the next Nebraska Furniture Mart” or something else of that large-format scale.

Furthermore, convincing any large-format retailer to buy into Central Square isn’t a finger snap, he says.

“We really need to get the plan approved before we can get retailers to the stage,” Buckley said. “Retailers look at a lot of plans across the country. It’s important we get a plan approved to be able to get into serious discussions.”

Andrew Barnes, an architect who grew up in Overland Park and now lives in Dallas, has gone so far as to publish a competing multi-use plan for the site that doesn’t include big-box stores. He calls the Central Square plan little more than “strip mall retail with large and midsize box stores” and says it includes too much surface parking.

In fact, Barnes’ ideas are akin to Lane 4’s proposals for the north half of Central Square — the former K-Mart/French Market site — which has generated less public reaction. The north side offers a clearer mixed-use plan, blending smaller areas of retail, office, residential, parking and public space.

But no project of such scale is easy to pull off.

Operating under the name 95 Metcalf Properties Inc., the developers are asking Overland Park for incentives to cover about 22 percent of the project’s $324 million cost through tax increment financing and a 1.5-cent community improvement district sales tax to be applied within Central Square boundaries.

The developers seek a 100 percent property tax abatement for 20 years. Buckley emphasized that the developers would still pay existing taxes on the property, the amount owed “but for” the new development. The abatement would be on the added value after redevelopment.

He said he also wants to allay public concerns by clarifying that “we are proposing $78 million in bonds that will have no risk, no guaranty from the city.”

“Overland Park wouldn’t be on the hook like Kansas City was with the Power & Light District,” he said.

Meanwhile, the developers are analyzing what the market will bear and watching construction of other new buildings and renovations along the Metcalf corridor.

About 500 apartment units are underway in four separate developments around 87th and Metcalf. And 420 units are proposed for the Promontory, a mixed-use development approved by Overland Park for 91st and Metcalf, the original Loehmann’s Plaza, now Gateway Plaza.

The Central Square plan, initially calling for 450 residential units on the south side of 95th Street and an unspecified number of “luxury multifamily” units on the north side, is flexible, Buckley said. Moving forward will be “based on competition and the marketplace.”

Despite the hurdles, “we’d love to break ground next spring,” Buckley said. The north side of the 95th Street plan is gaining momentum among prospective tenants, he said, “but we can’t move forward unless we have a general plan agreed to by the city and the developer.”

Buckley said he believes Central Square’s “neoclassical Mediterranean architecture and pedestrian-friendly layout” fit the Vision Metcalf guidelines.

“Vision Metcalf is about mixed-use redevelopment. Our project is hitting on that,” Buckley said. “It’s big on expanding residential. We’re doing that. It wants open space, and we have that sprinkled throughout our project. They want to make walking easier, and we’re incorporating trails in the plan to connect to nearby neighborhoods.”

Still, the plan isn’t a slam dunk fit.

Where the city has pushed for density, akin to the close-together retail, residential and parking garage environment at the Prairiefire development at 135th Street and Nall Avenue, Buckley sees pushback from retailers.

“It may not be realistic to do a four-story structure parking. Retailers want to be seen. Kansas City drivers want to park in front of the store,” Buckley said. “We don’t want a sea of asphalt. We do want to decrease parking size a la Brookside or Prairie Village.”

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

Central Square estimates

Demolition costs: $7.5 million

Total 60-acre multi-use project cost: $324 million

Incentives request: $78 million

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