Caves in Roeland Park have left Mayor Joel Marquardt on a mission.
When he was voted into office in 2013, a constituent talked to the mayor about the potential of land along Roe Avenue at 48th Street. Ever since then, he has wanted to find a unique use for the space.
It was the site of the city pool until the early 1990s, when it was closed down and filled in with dirt. Surrounding the area are limestone caves left behind by a quarry that have also been back-filled.
While some have dismissed the property as “useless,” Marquardt, an architect by trade, said he didn’t like that answer.
“I began looking into this fascinating, interesting place with rock formations and I came up with a possible, probable idea for how to develop it,” Marquardt said.
Marquardt began working with a group of volunteer architects last year and they drew a potential design for the area. For the past few months, he has been working with the city’s Ad Hoc Development Committee to research and discuss possible uses of the area. They hope having a vision for the site will help developers see the potential in the property.
“Lots of developers don’t know what to do with the cave structure,” Marquardt said.
While some developers have proposed filling in the property to level it up to Roe Avenue, Marquardt envisions using the caves and creating a retail, dining, hotel and entertainment venue that would draw people to the area. The proposal includes an estimated 22,000-25,000 square feet of interior space built inside the caves on the ground floor with the potential for three additional floors that would take the property up to the Roe Avenue level, plus more outdoor entertainment space.
With parking in the area at a prime, Marquard’s preliminary estimate provides for approximately 260 cars on site, with additional parking options down Roe.
But the question of whether the caves are structurally sound enough to support any development remains.
The land is part of a TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) district. That TIF is expiring in 2018 and will have a total of approximately $1,274,000 available for TIF projects within the district. The 2015 balance is at about $762,000.
On Monday, the Roeland Park City Council unanimously voted to authorize the city administrator to spend up to $100,000 on site work, with the approval of the Ad Hoc Development Committee.
The firm of Shafer, Kline &Warren, Inc. is under contract to coordinate the anticipated geotechnical, civil and architectural engineering studies as well as site clearing.
Marquardt said building inside and on top of the caves is an option if they are strong enough to support the weight. But they also plan to analyze the possibility of removing the tops of the caves and just using the walls as part of the structural design if it is determined the ceiling cannot support the weight of a structure.
The mayor also said the clean-up is an important part of the process in terms of finding a developer down the road.
“A developer has a tougher time determining what they’re working with if the site is not cleared,” Marquardt said.
With an estimated 25,000 cars passing the property on Roe Avenue each day, Marquardt says it’s a prime location for a development.
He maintains it is one of the most interesting potential development sites in the metro right now.
“We just have to find the right developer,” Marquardt said.
Interim City Administrator Mark Pentz said the mayor and the Ad Hoc Committee have developed some exciting ideas for the location.
“It’s the last significant piece of property to develop in Roeland Park,” Pentz said. “There’s an opportunity for it to be a gathering place for the community.”
With time running out on the TIF, Pentz said the challenge would be to work fast enough moving this project ahead to be able to use those funds on the site. While the funds can be used for this preliminary site work and analysis, they can not be used for any development.