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New Plaza owner shares vision for iconic district — including a return to local cuisine

DATE POSTED:July 1, 2024

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Kansas City PBS/Flatland, a member of the Kansas City Media Collective, which also includes Startland News, KCUR 89.3, American Public Square, The Kansas City Beacon, and Missouri Business Alert.

Click here to read the original story.

Addressing crime, deferred maintenance noted as top priorities; new projects, tenants to follow

The new owners of the Country Club Plaza will emphasize safety by installing more than 100 surveillance cameras and employing a more visible security force that can make arrests as part of its revival game plan.

Ray Washburne, president of HP Village Management, which took possession of the landmark property last Friday, said restoring a sense of security was a major issue in his firm’s deliberations during six months of negotiations.

“At the end of the day we had to make a decision,” he said Monday. “Can we make this a safe place for people to shop and come back to?

Ray Washburne, HP Village Management

“While under contract, there were shootings, that’s no secret, and there were holdups. We determined we could overcome that with proper steps that we take in our other centers.”

HP Village bought the Plaza from national shopping center operators The Macerich Co. and Taubman Centers. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The previous owners paid $660 million for the property in 2016 and defaulted on a $295 million loan in May 2023. The property is now valued by Jackson County at $179.6 million for tax purposes.

“We spent the last several months in an excruciating negotiating process with the seller, while at the same time talking to neighbors about what they want,” Washburne said.

“We’ll bring a local focus back to Plaza through the food and beverage scene and retail scene.

“We’ll also make it an office location of choice as well as try to bring back people living in and around the Plaza, so they are walking here at all times.”

Plaza Plans

HP Village Partners owns the Highland Park Village shopping center in Dallas. While much smaller than the Plaza — 250,000 square feet versus almost 1 million square feet — it has a similar history.

It was developed in the 1930s using a similar Spanish-themed architecture. The firm also is redeveloping Know Street in Dallas and owns the Phillips Place shopping center in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The most visible new Plaza development is expected to occur on what’s now known as the Nordstrom site, a large, vacant parcel on the west end of the Plaza formerly occupied by the Cinemark movie theater complex and other tenants.

Washburne said an office building with first floor retail is planned for that location. He also said the remainder of the former Cinemark theater complex across Jefferson Street will be renovated into offices.

There are no plans to bring a movie theater back to the shopping district.

The planned office building will anchor the west end of Nichols Road and will be a prominent part of restoring the architectural shine to the Plaza.

“The Nordstrom site has a 1,200-space garage and we can easily add an office tower there,” Washburne said.

“We’re planning an architecturally significant building at the end of the street. It won’t just be a ‘plain Jane office building, but something that’s architecture fits in with the rest of the Plaza.

An aerial view of the vacant site where Nordstrom had planned to open a store on the Country Club Plaza. The plan fell through in 2022; photo by Cody Boston, Flatland

“One thing, when you go around the center there’s a lot of bad architecture in Country Club Plaza that was done in the 70s and 80s,” he said.

“We plan on re-facading a lot of the old buildings and taking it back…and recreate storefronts that look like they’ve been there 100 years. When we’re done this will look very cohesive in the style it was originally done.”

A boutique hotel also is being considered for the block where the former Starbucks was located and Nichols Road and Central Street. Details about the scale of the project and how much of the block it would occupy have not been determined.

One attraction planned for Plaza neighborhood residents is returning a small grocer to the Plaza.

HP Village is also planning an extensive overhaul of streets and sidewalks in the Plaza. Those plans call for expanding sidewalks, installing at least some brick streets and adding landscaping. More diagonal street parking is also envisioned.

A detailed landscaping plan is expected to be released this fall.

“Right now, it feels like a lot of concrete,” Washburne said.

Incentives on the Table

The new owner of the 15-block shopping district that began opening in 1923 also has secured pledges from the city for tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements including streets and sewers.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas attended the press conference and said city officials have been in weekly discussions with HP Village.

“One of my greatest goals in my second term as mayor was making sure we got this deal done,” Lucas said.

The mayor said he expects the city to undertake “tens of millions of dollars” in infrastructure improvements to the Plaza, potentially creating a tax-increment financing district that would use sales, employee and other revenues generated there.

Deferred maintenance is a growing problem on the Country Club Plaza as it marks its 100th anniversary; photo by Dominick Williams, Flatland

The TIF Commission and other development agencies including Port KC and the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, which use incentive tools including property tax abatements, will be enlisted.

The Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department also would be asked to step up its maintenance and programming at nearby Mill Creek Park and the adjoining Brush Creek parkway.

“Kansas City is committed to the long-term success of Plaza,” Lucas said, “not just because of what it generates from economic activity taxes…but also the core nature it has for our single-family residential market.”

Lucas added he’s working with the Kansas City Police Department and the police commission “to make sure there’s a fantastic partnership between private security and law enforcement.”

A community improvement district is expected to be implemented that would provide the Plaza owners with greater control of its sidewalks and empower its private security to make arrests if needed.

“We’ll have our security out walking the property,” Washburne said. “The first thing we noticed a year ago was no security on the sidewalks walking around. You’ll see a constant presence of security officers walking a beat.”

The plan also calls for installing 100 to 150 surveillance cameras at the Plaza. Washburne said similar cameras at the firm’s smaller Highland Village Park shopping center in Dallas have proven highly effective in deterring crime.

“Right now, there are no eyes on the (Plaza) property,” he said.

The new owner noted the improved value and increased business planned for on the Plaza will repay the city manifold for any public investments.

“When the Plaza sold a few years ago it was over $600 million. It’s been on tax rolls now for $170 million,” he said. “Look at the property tax destruction as well as the sales tax destruction.

“We’re starting at a very low threshold to bring it back. What the city is going to invest, it will get back in spades with additional sales tax and property tax.”

Making Changes

The new owners said improvements should be visible quickly, with the beefed-up security patrols already underway and negotiations occurring for new tenants.

“The asset has not been managed properly for a while and we’re looking forward to investing heavily,” said Stephen Summers, who leads leasing for HP Village and is Washburne’s brother-in-law.

“We want to bring back a local emphasis on cuisine. We’re going to try to go away from huge chain restaurants.”

Summers also said the new owners plan to be more flexible on rents to attract local businesses.

“We want to get the right tenants,” he said. “We’re not signing up like the previous landlord a lot of national tenants. We want the right tenant in there, not somebody who has a huge balance sheet.”

Kate Marshall, president and founder of the new Plaza District Council, an organization created to support the Plaza and its surrounding neighborhoods, attended the HP Village press conference.

“We’re over the moon about the new owner and we’re very confident they have what it takes to bring the Plaza back to being a destination,” she said.

While based in Dallas, HP Village has strong local ties.

The partners in HP Village are Washburne, Heather Hill, Stephen Summers and Elisa Summers. The two women are sisters and descendants of legendary Texas oil magnate H.L. Hunt, the father of Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt.

“We are very proud to be stewards of this unbelievable asset,” Summers said. “It means a lot to our family.

“My mom grew up on West 60th Terrace and my grandparents are from here. The Hunt family is obviously involved as well. Kansas City has a special place in our heart.”

Hunt Midwest, another firm connected to the Hunt family, will be the co-developer on new projects expected at the Plaza.

In addition to attracting local retailers and restaurateurs, the new owners said they won’t neglect trying to lure the kind of high-end retailers that Highland Park Village is known for in Dallas.

They include Carolina Herrera, Cartier, CHANEL, Christian Louboutin, Dior, Fendi, Goyard, Harry Winston, Hermès, Jimmy Choo, Ralph Lauren, Rolex, Tom Ford, Valentino, Van Cleef and Arpels.

“The Plaza has room for the best-in-class locals plus room for at some point elevated brands as well,” Summers said.

“As an example, this is the largest market in the U.S. without a Louis Vuitton and Gucci store. We’ll target them, although they’re not coming today, the luxury market is soft at the moment.”

Washburne had personal experience with how poorly the Plaza was maintained when he closed the popular Mi Cocina restaurant he owned there a decade ago.

“The reason we left about 10 years ago is the reason we bought it today,” he said. It was a lack of investment in the capital infrastructure of the Plaza.

“I know a lot of things that are wrong with sewers and roofs and other things and we’re going to spend over $100 million just upgrading the basic infrastructure of the plaza.

“We’d like to bring Mi Cocina back once we get sewers that work.”

Flatland contributor Kevin Collison previously was founder and publisher of CitySceneKC.

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