Proposed building demo angers fans of KC's Plaza

Saturday, August 21, 2010 | 7:31 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY — A proposal to tear down a 1920s Spanish-themed building in the heart of Kansas City's upscale Country Club Plaza shopping district is being met with fierce resistance.

The Kansas City Star reported Saturday that hundreds of people have expressed their displeasure in e-mails, phone calls and Web postings. Plus, preservationists are renewing the call for the open-air shopping center to be declared a historic district. Modeled after Seville, Spain, the 15-block area located four miles south of the city's downtown is filled with fountains and Moorish architecture.

"We need more protection for the goose who laid the golden egg for Kansas City," said Scott Lane, president of the Historic Kansas City Foundation. "It's being stripped feather by feather. We'll try to have a strong voice on this."

The proposal from North Carolina-based Highwood Properties, which owns the Plaza, calls for razing the "balcony building" and the 96-unit Neptune Apartments. In their place, a modern-looking, glass tower building would be constructed to accommodate 500 employees of the Polsinelli Shughart law firm.

Joy Swallow, chairwoman of the department of architecture, urban planning and design at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, criticized the plan and said the proposed building looked like it belonged in a suburban office park.

"I am horrified," she said. "The Plaza is a collection of buildings that define a place. When you start tearing down a piece that makes it special, you really have a problem."

City planners say the Kansas City Council will have to consider the rezoning required for the $57 million project, as well as the development plan. The issue will go before the city's Plan Commission on Oct. 5.

One issue is that the proposed building is eight stories tall, which doesn't appear to conform to Plaza development height restrictions approved in 1989.

"They understand the design still needs tweaking," planner Larry Stice said. "They understand to be compliant, they'll have to push the eight stories back."

W. Russell Welsh, chairman and chief executive at Polsinelli, said it's up to Highwoods to pursue city approval for the plan.

"We've gotten a lot of very positive reaction about us staying in the city and we've gotten some negative comments about preserving the streetscape on 47th Street," Welsh said.

He said he understood concerns that the building design would disrupt the historic integrity of the Plaza, but added "some change is inevitable."

Councilwoman Jan Marcason, whose district includes the Plaza, plans to meet with Polsinelli officials this coming week to discuss the plan.

"I think the architectural integrity of the Plaza is where the starting point will be," she said.

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