Waddell & Reed Coming Downtown, Two Sites Considered HQ Finalists

The former IBM Building was demolished to make way for Waddell & Reed tower.

Editor’s note: The Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board endorsed the property tax abatement recommended for the Waddell & Reed development Wednesday, the recommendation will now go to the Kansas City Council for consideration.

During a presentation, attorney David Frantze, who represents the firm, said the total project value is $140 million and 250,000 square feet of office would be built on top of a 1,000 space garage. Total structure, including garage, would be up to 15 stories. It would be completed by early 2022.

Frantze estimated the city would gain a net $800,000 in earnings taxes the first year. He also told the EEZ board that Mayor Quinton Lucas supports the recommended tax incentive plan.

The attorney also said the tenant will be paying about $40 per square foot rent, almost double the $21 per square foot currently paid for Class A office space in downtown. Frantze said project should drive up office rents downtown, making it more financially attractive for new projects to be built. 

By Kevin Collison

The hottest private development deal in recent downtown history, a $140 million high-rise project that would be the headquarters for 1,000 Waddell & Reed employees, is nearing the finish line.

Two sites are finalists, according to several sources: one is a location at 13th and Grand long pitched by Copaken Brooks for an office development, the other is property at 1400 Baltimore controlled by the Merriman family of Financial Holding Corp.

The price tag, scope of the development and a city tax incentive request are to be discussed today (see above) at a meeting of the Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board, a city development agency.

The thinly-disguised subject of the meeting is referred to as “Project Decoy” and described as a financial service firm headquarters that would bring 919 jobs to the city. The report alludes to the new business as coming from Kansas.

“This project will add to the skyline in Kansas City by creating a quality new construction high rise and increase the population of individuals working every day in downtown Kansas City,” according to a staff report to the EEZ board.

The staff report said the firm plans to occupy a new building.

Sources say the Copaken Brooks property at the northeast corner of 13th and Grand is one of two finalists for a $90 million Waddell & Reed headquarters.

Sources say the company doesn’t plan to occupy either of the two major office projects currently in the works downtown, a 14-story tower planned by Platform Ventures at 13th and Wyandotte or the 25-story Strata project proposed for 14th and Main.

Instead, Waddell & Reed would sign a 15-year lease to occupy a new building that would be developed by another entity.

“The project…represents the opportunity for a new construction building office complex in the downtown area, which will be the first multistory office complex to be constructed in almost 15 years,” according to the EDC staff report.

A spokesman for Waddell & Reed declined to discuss the subject of the EEZ meeting, but said the firm is close to making a decision.

“We’re still working through the process, the approvals and evaluating options at this point,” Roger Hoadley, vice president of communications, said in an email. “We anticipate making an announcement perhaps in early to mid-November.

Copaken Brooks has been pitching an office project at 1300 Grand for more than a decade. (Image from Copaken Brooks)

The two sites that sources say are finalists are both next door to the Kansas City Power & Light District.

The Copaken Brooks property occupies much of the block at the northeast corner of 13th and Grand across from the Sprint Center.

The firm has been pitching an office project for the property since 2006, when it won the development rights. It currently is a parking lot. The proposal has been described as a 525,000 square-feet development with half available for office space.

The development site at the southwest corner of 14th and Baltimore is currently occupied by what was known as the IBM Building at 1400 Baltimore and an adjoining garage at 117 W. 14th St.

The land was once pitched by DST Realty as a potential site for the convention hotel. It is now controlled by the Merriman family, a very low-profile, major player in the Kansas City business community whose top executive is Michael A. Merriman.

There’s also a family connection to a potential deal. Joe Jack Merriman, Michael’s father, was president of Waddell & Reed in the late 1960s.

A visit to the 1400 Baltimore site this week revealed the buildings have recently been surrounded by fencing, an indication they may be preparing for demolition. The IBM Building, completed in 1957, and garage have been vacant for many years.

Michael Merriman

The undisclosed applicant for “Project Decoy” is seeking local tax incentives, including property tax abatements and city economic activity taxes (EATS) to go along with a $62 million job incentive package from the state.

The request includes a 15-year, 75 percent property tax abatement, a sales tax exemption on construction materials and a 15-year, 50 percent EATS reimbursement from the city. EATS taxes include earnings taxes, sales taxes and utility taxes.

The tax incentive request was give a top rating from the city’s economic development review process because of the number of employees that would be relocated from Kansas, where Waddell & Reed is currently located, and their pay.

The EDC staff said the firm will initially bring 919 jobs with an average wage of $166,337. The firm also plans to hire another 120 full-time employees over the next six years with a total net new payroll of $172.8 million.

The report estimated the cost of the the building and other investments at $90 million.

While the state and city effort to recruit Waddell & Reed from Kansas runs contrary to a recent Border War truce declared by the governors in August, the staff report notes the firm’s headquarters search was in play before that agreement was finalized.

“We are sensitive to and recognized the timing of this project relative to the border war legislation,” it stated, “but this was a grandfathered project by the the state of Missouri and as such, staff feels we should view this the same way locally.”

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