Parking deal between Kansas City and Assurant opens up more spaces in the Crossroads district

The Assurant Employee Benefits parking lot at 20th Street and Grand Boulevard will be open to the public from 5:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The Assurant Employee Benefits parking lot at 20th Street and Grand Boulevard will be open to the public from 5:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Kansas City Star

A new public-private partnership has improved weekend parking options on a busy corner in the Crossroads Arts District.

Kansas City doesn’t own the 300-space private parking lot at the corner of 20th Street and Grand Boulevard. Assurant Employee Benefits does and until recently, only Assurant’s workers could park there.

But thanks to an agreement worked out between the city and Assurant, the lot is now open to public parking on Friday and Saturday nights.

To the surrounding bars, restaurants and other businesses that draw nighttime crowds on weekends, the first-of-its-kind partnership is a blessing that city officials hope to duplicate in other parts of the city where public parking is scarce.

“This is a gift to me,” Nicholas Abnos said the other day as he looked out on the Assurant lot from the eighth floor of the neighboring Firestone Building, which he owns.

Hundreds of people attend weddings and other special events at his building most weekends, yet the Firestone Building, like many others in the area, was built at a time when parking lots weren’t always required.

That’s generally not a problem during the workweek, when there is plenty of street parking to satisfy demand. But on weekends, close-in parking can be hard to come by.

The owner of The Cashew restaurant, at 2000 Grand Blvd., cited that crunch for his decision late last year to add more parking spaces by demolishing a building he owns a half a block away at 1916 Grand.

Cashew owner Shane Glazer’s application for a pre-demolition permit is what led to the deal with Assurant. When news of his application got out in early January, it spurred a spirited debate on Twitter about the wisdom of demolishing old buildings in the Crossroads for parking lots.

“How many spots will new lot add?” one tweet to Glazer read. “Can’t be enough to justify tear-down.”

Assistant City Manager Rick Usher read the tweets and offered to broker a deal for the public use of Assurant’s fenced parking lot.

Under the agreement, the city operates the lot between 5:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, charging up to $5 for non-event parking and $10 for event parking.

The cost fluctuates based on demand.

Last weekend, when few knew about the arrangement and only 68 cars parked there, the rate was $3, Usher said.

Parking fees are supposed to cover the cost of having someone collect the fees and the cost of security. Anything left over is split between Assurant and the city, Usher said.

Assurant president Marc Warrington said in a prepared statement that the arrangement is a “good use of existing downtown resources” that Usher hopes will be a model for similar deals in entertainment areas.

It only makes sense, he and others say, to make use of existing parking lots that sit empty at night, rather than raze buildings for spaces.

Due to liability concerns, many businesses are reluctant to allow public parking for people other than their customers and employees. They also don’t want to clean up the mess that is often left behind.

The city’s agreement with Assurant has the city assuming liabilities associated with the nighttime parking. The city also agreed to pick up the trash and remove cars left after hours.

“I think the city’s parking agreement with Assurant will be a tremendous benefit not only for The Cashew,” Glazer said, “but for the entire Crossroads district.”

He never tore down the building at 1916 Grand and is now seeking a tenant for it.

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738 or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.