By Kevin Collison
City officials want a solid proposal to revive the forlorn Barney Allis Plaza and its crumbling garage by this summer, saying the prominent public space should become the “coolest backyard ever.”
At a public presentation at Bartle Hall last week where people were invited to offer ideas about the future of the 65 year-old downtown landmark, Mayor Quinton Lucas said the city is serious about improving the civic complex.
“There is a broad commitment by all of us not only to fulfill our responsibility not only to the garage, but to do something special with this space,” the mayor said. “I want to generate more life there and make it more a focal point.
“Barney Allis today seems to be a barren place. We’re trying to create something more open and welcoming, and get more business developing in this area.”
Earlier this year, the city began seeking proposals for revamping Barney Allis Plaza and its garage. The project price tag could be anywhere from $55 million to $80 million.
The Plaza, named after Barney Allis, the late owner of the historic Muehlebach Hotel, covers an entire city block between Municipal Auditorium, Bartle Hall, the Downtown Marriott and other hotels.
The plaza and garage were built in 1955 to serve Municipal Auditorium and it was upgraded in 1985. In recent years, the lower levels of the 980-space underground garage have been closed because of significant deterioration to the structure.
In a 2018 study, the Urban Land Institute suggested options ranging from a $17 million short-term repair of the garage with limited Plaza landscaping improvements, to a full reconstruction of the garage and lowering the Plaza to street level with extensive landscaping and new amenities at a cost of $63 million.
At a minimum, city officials say they want to lower the Plaza to street level.
And in an effort to reduce the cost of replacing the entire underground garage at Barney Allis, the City Council recently approved a plan to acquire property at 12th and Broadway to build a conventional garage.
A new garage at 1200 Broadway would reduce the number of spaces needed beneath Barney Allis, which provides parking for the adjoining convention center, and also could potentially fit in with a possible expansion at Kansas City Southern, which is next door.
Lucas said the current Barney Allis planning process shouldn’t stretch out too long.
“It won’t be faster than six weeks, but no longer than six months I would expect to have something to discuss and review at the Council,” he said.
The mayor added if a revamped Barney Allis Plaza is to reach its full potential as a civic centerpiece, it will require private participation as well.
“The cost continues to be our most significant concern,” he said. “The name of the game will be public-private partnership. If it’s a pure city-funded project, that would be limited.”
To assist with the planning process, the city has established a web page where people can learn more about the Plaza and offer suggestions.
Chris Hernandez, the city communications director, said the open house this week was a good launch for the public engagement the city wants for the process.
“We want this project to reflect what the people of Kansas City want,” he said. “This could be the coolest backyard ever…We know we have to fix the garage, but let’s do more than that.”
(Editor’s note: Beginning in December 2019, CityScene KC has become a paid subscription publication)
Don’t miss any downtown news, sign up for our weekly CityScene KC email review here.