Nordstrom Design Breaks Plaza Tradition, Wins Plan Commission Support

A rendering depicting the new Nordstrom department store; planners opted to support breaking with Plaza tradition for a more contemporary design. (Image from Nordstrom planning department application)

By Kevin Collison

The Country Club Plaza could have a very contemporary, new west edge where Nichols Road meets Jefferson Street following the endorsement this week of the design proposed for the planned Nordstrom department store.

The City Plan Commission unanimously backed the style of the 122,000 square-foot store which was described by the co-owner of the Plaza, the Taubman company, as a “once in a generation opportunity” to pump new retail life into the iconic shopping district.

“We see the addition of Nordstrom…as a great opportunity to assure the sustainability of the Plaza as a regional shopping center for years to come,” John Eggert of Taubman development told the commissioners.

The Plan Commission recommendation will now go to the City Council for final consideration.

The new Nordstrom also would mark the return of a department store to the Plaza which has been without one since Halls closed in 2014. It is expected to open in 2021.

The planned new Nordstrom will face the t-intersection of Jefferson and Nichols Road. (Image from Nordstrom planning department application.)

The proposed project would require the demolition of roughly a half-block of buildings along the west edge of Jefferson Street next to the Unity Temple at the Plaza including the Capital Grille, a Bank of America branch and several Cinemark Palace auditoriums on the second level.

The skywalk over Jefferson linking the movie auditoriums with the main Cinemark theater in the Seville building would be removed. Jefferson Street also would be narrowed to improve pedestrian access to the new Nordstrom from the rest of the Plaza.

Taubman officials were noncommittal about the future of the remaining Cinemark operation, saying it may continue as a movie theater or converted to another use.

The new look of Jefferson at the t-intersection of Nichols Road would be a contemporary department store with large windows facing the Plaza.

This group of buildings along Jefferson, including the skywalk, will be demolished to make way for the planned Nordstrom.

The proposed Nordstrom design also has received important support from Historic KC, a respected historic preservation organization, and Friends of the Plaza, a group that has often challenged changes it believes threaten the integrity of the venerable district.

Historic Kansas City and Friends of the Plaza recognize the need for the Plaza to evolve and adapt to a changing set of retail and economic circumstances,” the groups wrote in a joint letter.

“Overall, Historic Kansas City and Friends of the Plaza see this draft proposal as a reasonable solution, its design and placement accommodating the needs of contemporary retail function and design…

“…but in a manner that is compatible with the design, scale and form of the Plaza, and one that could bring new life to that block of the Plaza with the Nordstrom’s as a long-term tenant, and needed people and street activity in the area.”

In their report to the City Plan Commission, city planners also said they were comfortable with how the new store’s design would fit with the historic Spanish-style that dominates the Plaza.

“The two-story modern structure draws from the color palette of the Plaza but is otherwise more modern, including a curving façade along Jefferson Street primarily consisting of glass, textured metal panels, and architectural panels made of composite material with horizontal color banding,” according to staff.

“Staff feels that a purposeful streetscape along 47th Street which includes in its design stylistic features such as streetlight fixtures, brick pavers, and other place-making elements throughout the district…

“…will help to implement the spirit of the Plaza in the design while not trying to force the Nordstrom design take a faux-historical approach or add ill-suited decorative elements.

“The overall design is such that it will provide transparency along Jefferson Street and enhance the pedestrian experience.”

While the commercial buildings facing Jefferson would be razed, most of the garage behind them would remain intact. About 200 spaces would be removed, but 1,000 would remain.

The garage would have one entrance point close to where Nichols Road ends at Jefferson between the Nordstrom and Unity Temple.

City planners described the new Nordstrom design as transparent and pedestrian-friendly. (Image from Nordstrom city planning department application.)

The project calls for removing what designer’s called the “canyon effect” of the current entrance and instead create a more open and welcoming entrance that also includes improvements for pedestrians.

A current cramped garage sidewalk would be combined with the Unity Temple sidewalk to provide more space.

Planning staff members acknowledged the importance the Plaza holds to Kansas City and  beyond in describing how they approached the Nordstrom proposal:

“The Plaza is a notably unique district in Kansas City. It has rich history and is an attraction for the region and beyond; it is a part of the city which many locals and visitors alike feel a special relationship to and have strong feeling about both the history and the future of.

“Due to the importance the Plaza holds in the city, changes in the district are looked at with great scrutiny, with context and sensitivity to historic fabric a fundamental element of the review.

“It must be noted that the Plaza is not a registered district on the National Register of Historic Places and no individual buildings on the Plaza hold that designation.

Another view of the Nordstrom design looking south. (Image from City Plan application)

“Additionally, while some of the original buildings, primarily located on 47th Street between Broadway Boulevard and Wyandotte Street, were constructed in the early-to-mid 1920s, many buildings were later additions, built in the 1930s, 1960s, or later (as recent as the 2000s).

“Over the 90+ year history of the Plaza, many buildings have undergone significant façade—and use—changes that reflect changes in both architectural trends and the retail market. In the case of 4720 Jefferson, the structure was built in 1998.

“There are numerous challenges in bringing new development to an area with such history and significance.

“Staff recognizes the sensitivity of the Plaza district and has had numerous and on-going discussions with the applicant regarding areas in which the design can be amended so to be more reflective of the overall context of the Plaza and provide continuity, particularly at the pedestrian level.”

Jefferson Street will be narrowed to improve pedestrian access to the new Nordstrom store. (Image from City Planning Department application)

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  1. this so disgusts me. so, now, the plaza ends at jefferson with the construction of a new building for nordstroms that is so perfectly going up as any non-descript building you can find in ANY suburb ANYWHERE. there is NO excuse that some considerably better effort could be made to include design elements to compliment the existing plaza architectural motif.

    • How do you design a building to resemble Seville style buildings built almost 75 years ago without it looking cheesy and gawdy? Interested in your answer. I’m sure you know better than the professionals that do this work for a living.

  2. I urge the city council to reject the plan commission’s recommendation. Otherwise, it is the beginning Of relegating the iconic design to the dustbin and making the Plaza look like every other shopping center, which is to say it will make it look like nothing.

  3. Figures this is leaving Overland Park. There is another Nordstrom on the other side of the street from the mall. Hopefully something better will open up in Oak Park Mall. As far is this new design, I think it looks like crap. They’re just going for tourists money.

    • That’s a Nordstrom Rack, which is simply an outlet store. This is going to be a huge success on the plaza…honestly can’t understand why people are saying otherwise.

  4. When Nordstrom leaves the Plaza all that needs to be done to add a new tenant is slap on aluminum siding and a WALMART sign.
    The only saving grace is the fact that they won’t duplicate the disaster that was the Halls building.

  5. There couldn’t be a wider gap between these previous comments and my own opinion. First, I agree that the renderings seem a little slick for the Plaza…but acceptable to my eye. The fact that this successful retailer feels safe in investing 10s of millions in the Plaza is encouraging. Now what we need is a nice “plaza appropriate” grocery store in the remaining Cinemark theatre building street level space. THEN perhaps get rid of the long-term pop-up occupying the Plaza Theatre building and redo it into a beautiful “4-screen” cinema in the style it once was.

  6. This is a horrible design that does not fit in with the unique Spanish architecture that makes the plaza special and famous. And removing the movie theater and parking for an already parking short area, smh.

  7. I have been disappointed lately with some of the decisions made by the Plaza, like getting rid of Houston’s or adding an Old Navy! When I heard about Nordstrom’s moving down into the Plaza though, I became excited. The Plaza needs a larger, anchor store now that Halls left. Nordstrom is a perfect fit. It is upscale and fits in with the type of stores that make
    Up the plaza. The Plaza has always been a shopping area full of higher-end stores. Having Nordstrom’s go in, keeps that tradition. Which keeps most of Kansas City happy.

    The design of the new building is definitely more modern than the rest of the Plaza, but what’s wrong with an updated look for the new area? All of the windows on the front of Nordstrom’s will brighten up that area of the Plaza and act as a safety measure. I think it looks beautiful and making changes to the movie theatre is a bonus. It was another area that needed some major updating.

    I look forward to seeing it all finished! Just please don’t put any more low-end stores that you can find anywhere! Like the Old Navy that was put in.

  8. The Country Club Plaza is fast approaching it’s 100th birthday. What better way to celebrate this hallmark than by throwing up a bunch of suburban strip mall-worthy buildings that do nothing to blend with the time-honored motif of this venerable, historic district. Kansas City is known for very few things as memorable as the Plaza. Why continue down a path of de-emphasizing it’s architectural uniqueness? I’m guessing some who have voiced very strong opinions in favor of this new look, may have a personal vested interest, e.g. they are the architects, property management, etc. I wonder if any of them call Kansas City home? A more sensitive take on new additions within the district might pay off in the long run. Kansas City is always quick to jump on “the next big thing”, perhaps at the expense of retaining something that is already the big thing.

  9. I am willing to bet 90% of the people who disapprove of this project do not shop at the plaza. Those of us who shop at the plaza regularly are applauding the addition of a Nordstrom.

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