By Kevin Collison
A big Country Club Plaza redevelopment that will renovate much of the former Jack Henry building as a fitness club has expanded to include an endangered church next door prized by historic preservationists.
Matt Pennington, president of Drake Development, recently announced a Chiefs Fit, a joint fitness venture between the Kansas City Chiefs and 24 Hour Fitness, would occupy the upper two floors, about 32,500 square feet, of the Jack Henry building at 4641 Jefferson.
In an interview, Pennington also said he purchased the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist at the northwest corner of 47th and Jefferson about a year ago and is mulling a redevelopment concept for that property as well.
The 80 year-old church was listed on the 2019 List of Endangered Buildings by Historic Kansas City and is treasured for its Romanesque Revival style. The church however, does not have local landmark status and is not protected from demolition.
When asked if he would preserve the old church, Pennington demurred.
“I want it to be known, neither property (Jack Henry and the church) are on the (National) Historic Register,” he said. “We acquired it and we are in the planning stages.
“The church has a ton of asbestos and is obsolete.”
Lisa Briscoe, executive director of Historic KC, noted her organization had challenged a previous redevelopment proposal in 2019 that called for the church to be razed to make way for a 12-story apartment building.
The group withdrew its request to have the church declared a local landmark, protecting it from demolition, when the City Council expanded the Plaza Bowl height restriction zoning overlay to limit any development on the site to 45 feet.
Briscoe said her group intends to include the church on its upcoming 2020-21 Endangered Buildings list and described the building as “very much in danger.”
She also noted the developer of the new 46 Penn Centre office tower just north of the church has a strong interest in preventing views from the 14-story building being blocked.
“I’d suggest other property owners have a vested interest about what’s intended for that property, especially if it’s something with height,” she said.
As for the new Chiefs fitness club at the Jack Henry building, Pennington said landing that key tenant allows him to proceed with a $44 million redevelopment plan that was approved for tax incentives in 2019 by Port KC.
The original plan called for a Punch Bowl Social, a Denver-based adult games and recreation chain, to occupy much of the building. But Punch Bowl ran into financial problems when the Covid pandemic devastated the entertainment industry.
Pennington said he’s still will to work with Punch Bowl if the firm manages to navigate its Covid-related setback, but was not optimistic.
“If they make it, we’ll resume conversations,” he said.
The developer added the Jack Henry redevelopment plan still calls for entertainment and restaurant uses on the first floor.
As for the new Chiefs Fit, Pennington said the high-profile, NFL connected fitness franchise will help “liven up” that corner of the Plaza.
“It’s a use the Plaza needed,” he observed.
In a press release, the team described it as a “signature facility” that will include “Chiefs-branded free weights, machines and cardio equipment, an indoor turf field and a recovery facility that features cryotherapy treatment, hydromassage machines, NormaTec Compression Systems, a sauna, spray tan booths and full-amenity locker rooms.”
“Group fitness classes and personal training services will also be offered at Chiefs Fit, and to stay on top of nutrition and apparel, the space will include a fuel station and a retail shop that features Chiefs Fit branded gear,” the release stated.
Pennington said the top level of the Jack Henry building, now part of its garage, will include a terrace, a lounge and an area for yoga classes.
The development time schedule calls for the Chiefs Fit to open no later than the first quarter of 2022.
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