By Kevin Collison
City Manager Brian Platt has been on the job 16 months since coming here from Jersey City in December 2020.
He recently sat down with CityScene KC at the Rochester Brewing and Coffee in the West Crossroads to talk about greater downtown and other topics including the Kansas City Police Department and the Country Club Plaza.
One of the observations he expressed several times is his belief that more population density, development and activity in greater downtown is critical for its success.
That’s understandable, considering Jersey City, part of the New York metropolitan area, is one of the most densely populated cities in the country with 18,000 residents per square mile vs 1,580 in Kansas City.
Platt also came from a city with a far lower murder rate, 6.29 per 100,000 people in 2018 vs 27.8 that same year in Kansas City. That statistic has only become worse here, hitting 31.2 per capita according to the most recent numbers, the seventh highest rate in the country.
He broke some news about the South Loop decking effort, was candid about the need for more development at the Country Club Plaza and was frank in suggesting some improvements for KCPD.
The questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
What progress has been made on the proposal to deck a four-block stretch of the South Loop freeway trench with a park from Wyandotte to Grand?
“We’re making some good progress on it. We’re just trying to formalize some commitments that have been made verbally to us and that announcement might be coming soon.
“We’re working on funding the first sections of it and hope we can secure that soon, in the next few weeks maybe. Don’t want to say anything more just in case, not everything is in place yet.”
(Editor’s note: The Downtown Council says a special announcement about the South Loop Link is expected to be made this Friday by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II at the organization’s annual luncheon.)
How about Barney Allis Plaza? The City Council was presented with a $112.4 million recommendation in January that calls for rebuilding the underground garage and creating a new plaza above it.
“There’s no immediate hazard right now, there is a medium term hazard and concern with the structure and its certainly on the radar now.
“We have an RFP out to solicit proposals from private entities that might want to partner with the city and redevelop that site.
“At the end of the day, taxpayers can’t afford $120 million to rebuild the parking deck. We hope we’ll be able to partner with a private entity to both rebuild the parking deck and create a more, accessible public plaza with the potential for additional development, high-rise development, on that site.
You have previously mentioned also developing affordable housing at Barney Allis, is that still on the table?
“I hope so, the city owns it and we’re not looking to make a profit off it and do want to provide a benefit to our residents and our communities. Affordable housing, public park, parking and other amenities would go a long way for Kansas City.
What about affordable housing overall? Applications have dropped substantially since the Council’s 20 percent affordable housing mandate took effect a year ago. Developers say the numbers don’t work financially. Is there any discussion about modifying it?
“I think Council members are aware that we potentially need to review alternative avenues to creating more affordable housing. We’re working on some other ideas there. We have the new affordable housing trust find with $25 million in it.
“I think Council members were up front when that ordinance passed that we need to do something and if it doesn’t work, we’ll change it. I think maybe they’re at that point where they’re looking at seeing what the next thing might be.
“One thing we’ve noticed is developers are just looking for certainty and at the end of the day, they want to know what they’ll get and how they’ll get it, and it won’t be a cumbersome, drawn out process
“We hope to remedy a lot of that with ideas we have. I’m still having those discussions with Council members that I’m not quite ready to share, but I think some of them are going to change.”
There’s been a lot of attention lately to the Country Club Plaza and its increasing vacancies. Nordstrom just announced it won’t being coming there. What is the city’s role in addressing those Plaza issues?
“The challenge of the Plaza is there’s a lot more competition than they’re used to be for that site. It’s very easy and convenient to drive to so many other lcoations for stores and retail that directly compete with stores on Plaza.
“That makes it a challenge to bring people from the region. That means we have to add more density and more activity and more people on that site in general by building new buildings, by building taller buildings or creating new draws to that site.
“On the city side, we will be resurfacing the streets, changing the street lights but that only goes so far. The zoning and density will go a long way to bring the Plaza back.
“If you have a couple thousand more people living there and a couple thousand more people working there suddenly you’ve got enough foot traffic to support some of those businesses and restaurants that have vacated the area.
“That could be a zoning change for the Plaza Bowl, that could be a couple new developments on the outside, it could be additional incentive to build more on what we have there.
Drake Development is pursuing a nine-story project at 47th and Pennsylvania that would violate current height restrictions. The developer says the city should allow more intense development.
“We as the city very much would like to support the Plaza and bring it back to life. There are some different paths forward such as additional density and development on that site and bringing new types of activities and draws and restaurants and retail and things like that.
“The density piece is probably the best way to do it and we are supportive of that. But that requires council action and policy change and things that me, as city manager, don’t have the authority to do unilaterally.
“I’ve had some conversations, but I’m not sure where Council is yet. I hope we’ll have more public and targeted conversation in next few weeks.
How about a potential downtown ballpark? What, if any, role would the city have in such an endeavor?
“We want to be good partners. The Royals haven’t yet made an ask of the city. We’ve had some informal, preliminary conversations about the vision and what it could be. As a result, we don’t know what our role will be.
“We’ve made it clear we hope that any development related to the stadium helps us address the concerns and the priorities we’ve got: affordable housing, new jobs, rebuilding communities and investment in the East Side.
I absolutely do think the team recognizes those needs. I don’t know what that means in reality of participation by the city. People forget these things cost a lot of money it has to come from somewhere. That will be an entirely new phase of the conversation.”
Tomorrow, the discussion will continue on the potential future of a prominent downtown company, how the city can help attract more businesses downtown, the Buck O’Neal linear park concept and the color of Kansas City police cruisers.
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