Redeveloping failed Citadel site poses a challenge for KC

Environmental cleanup of the failed Citadel Plaza site is imminent, but finding new investors and developers will be a more daunting task.

Kansas City officials and consultants shared that message Thursday night with about 50 people who live or work near the development site, which encompasses seven city blocks around 63rd Street and Prospect Avenue.

Residents and businesses in surrounding neighborhoods, including Research Medical Center, have been waiting for progress for more than a decade.

Citadel Plaza originally was envisioned as an $80 million, 35-acre shopping center with a full-service grocery, restaurants, other retailers and residential living. But the developer, CDC-KC, failed to properly monitor asbestos removal before some homes were torn down in 2006, and the project became mired in environmental and financial limbo.

In November 2011 the City Council approved a $15 million settlement to resolve several lawsuits involving the development’s creditors. That settlement, made final in January 2012, gave the city clear title to about 160 parcels of land and freed up the site for a new developer.

Since then, consultants have taken samples from 154 properties and found only one parcel with detectible asbestos fibers in the soil surface. Further analysis will be done, and Andrew Bracker, the city’s brownfields coordinator, said he expected the city to have an approved cleanup plan for the entire area by this summer.

The city also has spent $32,000 on a 146-page market study by Urbanics Consultants of Vancouver, British Columbia.

The study doesn’t sugarcoat the redevelopment challenges. Despite its proximity to U.S. 71, the site is in a low-income area with a declining population base and close to several shopping complexes that already are struggling to attract and retain tenants.

“The consultant sees no opportunity for a convenience/neighborhood oriented shopping center,” the study says.

But Urbanics President Phil Boname told the audience Thursday night that he does see potential if the city can attract four or five big regional traffic generators such as Menards, Ross Dress for Less, Target and Michaels. With sufficient traffic, Boname said, the development might then attract a movie theater, cafes and other stores that residents want.

Some residents were highly skeptical, saying they’ve watched too many residents and retailers flee the surrounding area.

“Realistically, who would want to come there?” one man asked, saying it would be up to the city to get creative and make the site a magnet for development.

But Bill Hart, longtime resident of the nearby Blue Hills neighborhood, said he was encouraged that the city had hired a competent market study consultant.

“Now we have someone who’s really done their research,” he said.

Claude Page, a senior planner with the city, said the city is serious about wanting the site to succeed and plans to market it aggressively.

“The city has in its mind to market this site nationally to developers,” he said.