Government & Politics

Downtown Overland Park office/entertainment complex OK’d. But neighbors worry.

A rendering of the proposed Edison OP, which would combine apartments, office space and entertainment venues.
A rendering of the proposed Edison OP, which would combine apartments, office space and entertainment venues. Rendering courtesy of The Opus Group

Conflicting visions for downtown Overland Park were on full display Monday, as the Overland Park Planning Commission considered a plan for a $48.5 million office/entertainment complex in the heart of the historic downtown market district.

The Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the development plan for a five-story building with office space and restaurants, a two-story food court, outdoor plaza and a parking garage. The complex would be at the southwest corner of 80th and Marty Streets. The project next goes to the City Council for its consideration.

Supporters argued it will bring new vitality and customers to the downtown merchants, with 400 office workers filling the space during the day and entertainment attractions drawing families on nights and weekends.

“I think it’s a really important project,” said Hal Shapiro, who developed the new 41-unit InterUrban Lofts nearby at 79th and Conser streets. That development has brought in millennial and empty-nester apartment dwellers to downtown.

But nearby residents and some downtown business owners worried that this new complex will threaten the very character of downtown Overland Park that it’s supposed to enhance. Nearly a dozen people told the commission they thought the five-story office building was too big for the space, and that new development is happening too fast in the area.

“You’re going to hurt the quaintness of downtown Overland Park,” said Colleen Babcock, who with her husband recently opened Ambrosia Cafe just across from the Overland Park Farmers’ Market. “The height of the building doesn’t fit with the feel of downtown Overland Park.”

Longtime resident Diana Barnes also wondered whether the pace of development, with new apartments buildings also going up, is too fast.

“Are we totally overbuilding and ruining our ambiance?” she asked.

But city staff generally supported the project and said it can fit into downtown despite the height.

The project, dubbed Edison OP, is the brainchild of Tim Barton, founder of the successful freight brokerage firm Freightquote. He sold that company and is now involved in a variety of ventures, including this project.

Barton, whose principal residence is in Austin, Texas, spends considerable time in Johnson County. He told the commission he appreciates downtown Overland Park and only wants to bolster its vitality, walkability and character. He said the project tries to be sensitive to its surroundings, blending modern with the old.

“I fully appreciate the value of old Overland Park and maintaining that value,” he said.

Barton told The Star that the office building needs to be five stories to be financially viable, and it will be on a scale with some nearby apartments projects under construction.

The first floor will be mostly restaurants, with offices filling the upper floors. The western side of the building would have outdoor seating facing an interior, open courtyard for the restaurants. The two-story food hall would be just to the west of the office building, in the middle of the block along 80th Street. People could order from different food areas and then sit in the large open plaza area that was likened to a “town center” between the two buildings.

A large TV screen would be located on the northern facade of an adjacent parking garage, with pavers, seating and synthetic turf to watch events on the large screen.

The project would have a 37-stall surface parking lot and a 329-space, four-story parking garage at the northwest corner of 81st and Marty streets. It would be for office workers during the day but would provide free parking for the public at night and on weekends. The garage would have one entrance about mid-block along 81st Street. It could serve the nearby farmers’ market if the city proceeds with a plan to move or update the market.

Barton also has purchased the Overland Park Presbyterian Church at 8029 Overland Park Drive. A newer part of the church, dating from the 1970s, would be demolished for part of the parking garage, but the original church, built in the 1920s and facing Overland Park Drive, will remain. Barton said it will be redeveloped as offices as a later phase of the project.

The developer does anticipate seeking tax increment financing for the project, which will require a public hearing before the city council.

Commission members listened to the public’s concerns but supported the project’s concept and building design.

“It doesn’t offend me. I like it,” said commission member Michael Flanagan.

Commissioner Ned Reitzes said he thought it would be a big asset and community draw for downtown, adding “I hope this does turn out to be a destination.”

If the city council approves it, Barton predicted construction could start sometime mid-2018, with completion about 18 months later.

Johnson County has had an apartment building boom that began in 2013 and is affecting both north and south of Interstate 435. The pace appears to be slowing, but developers say they are still bullish.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley