Major River Market office development to lure tech jobs passes council committee

A long-discussed plan to redevelop a River Market parking lot into high-end office space capable of attracting out-of-state tech jobs to Kansas City took a step forward Wednesday.

The City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee unanimously approved an ordinance directing City Manager Troy Schulte, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Briarcliff Development Company to work out the agreement, which calls for the city to finance nearly $15 million toward the cost of a parking garage for the busy River Market area.

The full City Council could take up the issue Thursday.

The proposal would transform a Park and Ride transit center at 3rd Street and Grand Boulevard into a mixed-use development with office space capable of supporting more than 800 jobs and ground-level retail. The project would continue serving as a transit hub.

Eventually the 3rd and Grand site could connect the Kansas City Streetcar line to the riverfront and support a commuter railway.

“It will open up on nights and weekends 500-plus spaces for the City Market, which will be a huge addition to an area that — you can’t get within two blocks of the City Market on a Saturday morning or a Sunday morning,” Schulte said.

Council members debated fiercely this spring over whether to fund a $17.5 million garage for Three Light developer Cordish Companies. Under the current proposal, the city is responsible for funding up to $14.75 million for the River Market garage.

Schulte said the city has subsidized garages for new office towers for the last 20 years, but the 3rd and Grand project was moving in the right direction by planning fewer parking spaces per 1,000 square feet and setting aside public parking.

“I have yet to be involved in a project, where — especially in an office project — where the city has not been involved in some way in the garage,” Schulte said.

Financing options for the tower’s garage are still in flux, but the city could issue $14.75 million in bonds, to be repaid by parking revenues, earnings taxes on the new employees and payments from the building owner.”

The River Market garage would have 568 spaces with 125 available for 24-hour public use, Wagner said. All 568 spaces would be available on nights and weekends.

The remainder of the garage’s nearly $20 million cost would be covered by Briarcliff and its investing partners. The office and retail part of the project is expected to cost about $65 million, Briarcliff President Richie Benninghoven said.

Briarcliff is in negotiations with out-of-town companies who would move or expand into the 200,000 sq. ft. space. Benninghoven said the company doesn’t want to use incentives to poach companies from other metro communities, a phenomenon commonly dubbed the “Border War.”

To attract those tech employers, Briarcliff is planning a timber frame building with exposed beams and building supports. Benninghoven said the company has found that design is in high demand.

“What it really does is just create a unique office environment that you can’t create with any other construction,” he said.

Benninghoven said the project could get approvals and crews could start construction as early as the second quarter of 2019. The very earliest would be late in the first quarter.

Briarcliff is also expected to ask for tax incentives from Port KC.

The committee also unanimously passed an ordinance authorizing Schulte to pursue a $36 million garage financing agreement for the city at the proposed Strata office tower at 13th and Main streets.

That project has been on the city’s radar since 2003, Schulte said, and the city had originally agreed to finance a much larger garage.

Committee members agreed to an amendment proposed by Councilman Quinton Lucas, who represents the 3rd District at-large, to allocate any extra tax revenues from the project — beyond what the city needs to pay off the debt — for affordable housing.

Because of incorrect information provided by the city, an earlier version of this story inaccurately described the financing plan for the garage.