KCP&L success formula ‘live-work-play-enjoy’


Story of KC's T-Mobile Center and downtown Image: Coliseum GSVA

In the 1940s and 1950s, the urban lifestyle was preferred by many Americans. People shopped local whether for groceries, clothes, or other day-to-day needs. It wasn’t uncommon to have a coffee shop within walking distance. Bars and restaurants may be located downstairs, not across town.

‘community PLAYMAKER’ stated that the American love affair with mixed-use development is nothing new. Cities, large and small, stacked buildings with multiple purposes into one area, giving people the ability to take care of all their needs, and build a community within a short walking distance. What changed? The emergence of affordable automobile travel led a Pied-Piper-like movement to the suburbs for the promise of more land and safer neighborhoods.

However, in the last decade, the pendulum has swung back towards communities that provide walking access to a variety of amenities. In a study conducted by the International Council of Shopping Centers, 78 percent of adults and 85 percent of millennials said they would consider moving to an area that had working, shopping and “play” amenities nearby. The latter stat is particularly important for the City leaders and the developers as millennials make up 28 percent of homebuyers, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors.

New York (US)-based the International Council of Shopping Centers, doing business as ICSC, is the global trade association of what it calls the ‘Marketplaces Industry’.

Chicago (US)-based the National Association of Realtors is an American trade association for those who work in the real estate industry.

‘community PLAYMAKER’ further stated that in response to this trend, mixed-use developments are sprouting in cities of various sizes and demographics. Whether it’s the fountains and brick façades of the Branson Landing (shopping mall) in Missouri or the posh feel of the Brickell City Centre (shopping mall) near South Beach in Miami, these areas serve the primary purposes of enhancing the quality of life of residents and driving revenue from visitors.

One of the most successful examples of mixed-use areas is the Kansas City Power & Light District (KCP&L), a dining, shopping, office, and entertainment district in Downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The $850 million district – named after the art deco Kansas City Power and Light Building – comprises nine blocks on the South side of the downtown loop and is one of the largest development projects in the Midwestern United States. It includes more than 50 bars, restaurants and shops, and a one-block entertainment area called KC Live! that contains two floors of bars and restaurants, as well as a covered outdoor courtyard and concert venue. The KC Live! hosts more than 150 free events annually and is directly across the street from the 18,000-capacity T-Mobile Center, one of United States busiest arenas.

The 9th Coliseum Summit US will be held from May 21st-23rd at Kansas City (Missouri).

The KC Power & Light District Story

The impetus for the project, which kicked off 15 years ago, was the decision by Big 12 (then Big 8) Conference organizers to move their basketball tournament from Downtown Kansas City.

The Big 8 Conference was a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-affiliated Division I-A college athletic association that sponsored football.

The Big 12 Conference is a college athletic Conference headquartered in Irving, Texas (US). It consists of 14 full-member universities in the States of Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

Indianapolis (US)-based the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a nonprofit organization that regulates student-athletics among about 1,100 schools in the United States and Canada. It also organizes the athletic programs of colleges and helps over 500,000 college student-athletes who compete annually in college sports.

“At that time, there really wasn’t a lot going on,” explained Rob Hunden, President and head honcho of Chicago-based Hunden Partners, a real estate development advisory practice that worked with the City’s Economic Development Commission on an analysis of the initial proposal for development.

Added Hunden, “Downtown was mostly surface parking lots and Government buildings and [after the loss of the tournament] there was concern about the Center, the heartbeat of the community, being hollowed-out. The City was also losing conventions at the Kansas City Convention Center.”

The Kansas City Convention Center, originally the Bartle Hall Convention Center or Bartle Hall, is a major convention center in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, US. It was named after Harold Roe Bartle, a prominent, two-term Mayor of Kansas City in the 1950s and early-1960s. Its roof is suspended by four tall art deco inspired pylons as a component of the Kansas City skyline.

In short, the mission was to fix and expand the convention center and to build hotels within walking distance.

Continued Hunden, “There was a need to create a district to tie it all together so that when people came out of the convention center or came downtown for a concert, there would be something fun to do before and after, and all the times between events. We wanted this to be a place where residents will want to go, where downtown workers will want to be and where people will purposely want to live. All of these projects, when taken together, created incredible synergy and are driving this live-work-play-visit energy that exists today.”

The KCP&L has attracted more than 95 million visitors over the past decade and was instrumental in igniting the revitalization of Downtown Kansas City. In KCP&L’s annual Community Impact Report, Kathy Nelson, the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Visit KC and the Kansas City Sports Commission said this of the development, “As we continue attracting large conventions to Kansas City, the Power & Light District is an important amenity for guests staying downtown. The combination of local restaurants, bars and entertainment venues creates a multifaceted offering for business travelers, tourists and Kansas Citians looking to experience the best of our City Center.”

The KCP&L has also been a key driver in the local real estate market. Since its opening, the Cordish Companies, the developer responsible for KCP&L, has also built three luxury towers: One Light, Two Light and, in 2023, Three Light. The tower trio added nearly 900 homes to the area and along with other development projects have helped Kansas City establish itself as a destination for new residents as well.

John Moncke, KCP&L’s President, informed that the City now draws 60 percent of Downtown Kansas City’s building residents from “out of the market”. In KCP&L’s Community Impact Report, the development states that more than 30,000 people call the area home, a 75 percent increase from 2020.

In a press release regarding Three Light, Brian Platt, City Manager of Kansas City, said, “The real estate market in Kansas City is strong and continuing to build momentum, and we look forward to future mixed-income developments here that also include workforce and affordable housing.”

Mixed-Use Developments Bring Value to Forgotten Areas

Throughout the United States, mixed-use developments are serving Cities in a variety of ways. For Kansas City, KCP&L is driving tourists and residents to its downtown area. In other Cities, these developments are becoming increasingly valuable because of their ability to change perceptions of overlooked communities. In Fairfax County, Virginia, the Lorton Correctional Complex, a 3,500-acre correctional facility dating back to 1910, was considered one of United States toughest prisons. This led many to view Lorton, Virginia as an undesirable place to live.

Today, the majority of the correctional complex has been reimagined as the Liberty Crest Apartments, a $188 million project that, through two phases of development, has produced nearly 200 homes, the Liberty Market with 40,000 square feet of retail space and Liberty Green, a park and concert venue. The Liberty Crest is a centerpiece in a development that now includes three schools, a park, a network of trails, the Harmony at Spring Hill, a senior living community, and the Workhouse Arts Center.

For residents, mixed-use developments work because they often align with a growing consumer desire for inclusive living spaces.

Pointed out Hunden, “If you create a great place, people aren’t going to want to work from home, they’re going to want to work from the office because they’re part of a great location.”

Considerations for Cities

For a mixed-use district to succeed and be sustainable in the long term, diversity and inclusion are crucial because they equal authenticity.

Stated Hunden, “It’s not a mission statement, it’s a success factor. The idea is to create something that reflects who you want to be, not who everybody else is. A mixed-use district should be a reflection of its people and place and should involve the local entrepreneurs. It should be compelling and interesting, not a typical collection of national chains. That type of diversity is critical.”

At KCP&L, that’s reflected in the presence of their distinct set of homegrown and regional businesses, including the County Road Ice House BBQ & Bar, Cosentino’s Market and Posh KC.

Additionally, the City leadership should understand that creating mixed-use districts takes a lot of time, energy and money, and while the process isn’t quick or easy, it’s worth it.

Noted Hunden, “A lot of times people feel, ‘it shouldn’t be this hard, there shouldn’t be a public subsidy, and we can do this overnight,’ but those things just aren’t true.”

Funding Mixed-use Development: The Biggest Consideration

Regarding funding mixed-use projects, the rules, opportunities and tools that each community has are different across United States and are usually dictated by State legislation.

Hunden further explained, “Typically, what we see is that every compelling project uses multiple funding tools to help make a deal happen. Oftentimes, we want to start with what we call project-generated financing. For example, every project generates a variety of taxes including sales, hotel, food and beverage (F&B), property, and income. There are many different types of taxes that, for the existence of this development, would not exist. We can rationalize reinvesting those project-generated taxes back into the project. So, let’s use the first 10 to 15 to 20 years of taxes generated by this project to get it off the ground, and after that, it’s all gravy to the City because [the project] will be on the tax rolls. In the end, you get the benefit of all the jobs and other activities that the project is creating.”

In the case of KCP&L, public-private partnerships were a prominent component of funding.

Said Hunden, “It’s easier to lease up something to a nationally branded ‘XYZ’ than it is to create something authentic, and therein lies the rub. The public sector has to prime the pump to help create critical mass with the private sector developer, so all of a sudden, you’re coming out of the ground with something that has critical mass and, in fact, induces lots of demand. You can’t just start off with one little coffee shop and think that’s going to start attracting people overnight. It’s a long process. You can’t change who you are, but you can add to who you are.”

Advice for Cities

In the case of the KCP&L project, a huge effort was required by the City, including generating nine different revenue streams and the tireless work of dedicated leaders and many people coming together to make it happen.

Averred Hunden, “Downtown has been transformed and it is a great example of what can be accomplished even when you think there’s no way.”

Hunden also pointed out that it doesn’t matter how big or small a City is – what counts is the ability to put key ingredients together to create a compelling, transformative place – “It’s about the alchemy of trying to make sure you’re filling day and night time hours and days of week and months of the year with concurrent and related activities that support each other. So that’s why we talk about live, work, play, visit, and enjoy.”

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