By Kevin Collison
Port KC is sticking with a familiar firm to continue planning the proposed South Loop Link, choosing HNTB to conduct the environmental and preliminary engineering work for the $160 million endeavor.
Kansas City-based HNTB has been actively engaged with the concept of decking the I-670 freeway with a four-block park for more than four years. In early 2018, it reported to the Downtown Council the project could be done for $139 million.
The firm was selected from among three groups responding to a request for qualifications issued by Port KC in early September. The others were Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City and New York-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
The choice of HNTB still must be approved by the Port KC board of commissioners.
“All of the teams that applied were great, with incredible talent between them and their national partners,” Jon Stephens, Port KC president and CEO.
“HNTB has an incredible depth of experience and creativity, and I expect them to get moving early on the environmental and engineering. They may be able to tighten up their timeline.”
While the cost estimate for the South Loop Link has risen to $160 million and will likely increase, city leaders remain confident the project will move forward. It has been contemplated for more than a decade.
City Manager Brian Platt estimated it will take a year for HNTB to complete its work, and believed construction on at least part of the freeway lid would begin soon after. The plan calls for the park to stretch over I-670 from Wyandotte to Grand.
“This project is an economic catalyst for the entire downtown area and it will facilitate new development opportunities south of 670,” he said.
“It also will greatly reduce the environmental impact of the highway and it will add much needed green space to the heart of downtown.”
The RFQ issued by Port KC two months ago roughly outlined a general map of how the project would be financed, calling for equal, one-third participation by local, state and federal sources.
Locally, it calls for $20 million in private funding and $33 million from other sources; the state would provide $10 million in tax credits and $43 million from other sources, and the federal government, a $25 million RAISE Grant, and $25 million from other sources.
At a press conference last April at the new Loews Convention Hotel, city officials said the hotel owners had pledged $5 million to begin engineering work. Other private sources expected to contribute include the Cordish Cos. and the Merriman family.
The owners of Loews as well as Cordish and the Merrimans have a strong interest in seeing the noisy South Loop freeway capped.
The Loews Hotel is adjacent to the highway trench as is the Cordish Two Light and Three Light apartment towers. The Merriman interests own the new 1400KC office building overlooking I-670 at 14th and Baltimore.
There’s also a proposal for a 500-unit apartment development by the South Loop at 15th and Main being pursued by an entity that includes Cordish and J.E. Dunn.
Platt said the city is close to finalizing additional commitments in the $20- to $25 million range.
“We’re working on tens of millions of grants from our state and federal partners, and most importantly, from Sen. Roy Blunt.”
At the April press conference, Blunt and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said they were confident federal money will be forthcoming including a $25 million RAISE grant.
Local leaders are looking to Klyde Warren Park in Dallas as is an example of a successful freeway decking project. The park, which opened in 2012, covers a three-block stretch of a freeway between the city’s Uptown neighborhood and downtown.
Stephens has said previously the plan ultimately calls for the park itself to be owned and maintained publicly, and its operation and programming handled by a non-profit group, similar to the one used in Dallas.
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