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ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT | Kansas City officials disappointed

Power and Light debut delayed to '08
Developer Cordish Co. says tenants want grand opening to coincide with March's Big 12 basketball tournament.
By Kevin Collison

  KC Star

Plans for opening the bulk of the Kansas City Power & Light District in tandem with the Sprint Center this October have been dashed, dismaying city officials.

Top officials with the Cordish Co., Baltimore-based developer for the entertainment district designed to be the hub of downtown revitalization, said Tuesday that tenants were demanding the grand opening be timed for the hordes of fans expected for the Big 12 basketball tournament in March.

“No one wants an early opening of the tenants as much as we do,” chairman David Cordish said Tuesday in an e-mail to The Kansas City Star. “On the other hand, sometimes in business you have to do what is best for the tenants, the project and the community over the long haul.

“In this instance, we have listened to the tenants, who overwhelmingly chose the early spring of next year as the proper time to open the entire Kansas City Power & Light District.”

Just a few months ago, city officials were being told by Cordish that the core of the entertainment district would be ready for the Oct. 10 debut of the arena just across Grand Boulevard. Now, only a handful of businesses may be open, Cordish officials say.

“We’re somewhat disappointed,” City Manager Wayne Cauthen said. “The expectation that was given to me and then-Mayor Barnes (was) that part of it would open to coincide with the opening of the Sprint Center.”

While city finance officials say such a delay should not cause a problem in supporting about $300 million in publicly issued bonds for the project, it is dampening what people had hoped would be a double-header kickoff for a downtown revival that has been in the works in recent years.

Indeed, Cauthen and Mayor Mark Funkhouser recently sent a letter to some tenants encouraging them to open this fall rather than wait for spring.

Brenda Tinnen, the Sprint Center general manager, also was disappointed that the $276 million, 18,500-seat facility apparently will pretty much stand alone until March.

“In a perfect world,” she said, “it would have been best for all the fans coming to the Sprint Center if they could come down and find the Power & Light District open, and we would be looking bright and shiny and new at the same time.”

In January, city officials were still expecting that most of the four-block core of the entertainment district would be open in time for the arena opening.

Long-term plans for the district call for 450,000 square feet of bars, restaurants, entertainment venues and specialty retail that would bring sizzle back downtown.

Blake Cordish, the official in charge, promised a grand opening this fall when his company took over construction of the public-private venture last July.

“One of the things we’re excited to announce is the district will open in 2007,” he said at the time.

Behind last year’s public optimism, however, there was private grumbling that delays in the transfer of the property from the city to the developer had held up construction.

The city was responsible for acquiring and clearing the sprawling site, and building infrastructure including three garages, two of them underground.

Technically, under the terms of the company’s development agreement with the city, Cordish is not required to complete work on the project until January 2009.

It wasn’t until last winter that J.E. Dunn Construction Co., the contractor hired by Cordish to build the retail structures, was able to begin substantial work.

In December, the Kansas City Council approved spending $905,000 to extend the city’s contract with a consultant, MWH Americas Inc., to oversee the project. The resolution stated, “Due to developers’ delays in their construction schedules, it’s in the city’s best interest to ensure that no further delays occurred.”

The city also began requiring Cordish to make monthly progress reports and offered to help streamline the process of tenants applying for permits.

Cordish, for its part, while always assuring it has had overwhelming commitments from tenants for the project, has been slow in releasing names. So far about a dozen have been announced, the latest being last week: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium and Angel’s Rock Bar.

David Cordish said his firm had a financial stake in any delay opening the project.

“While selfishly or shortsightedly we might corporately benefit by a premature opening of a few venues,” he said, “the overwhelming sentiment of the tenants to open in spring 2008 was undoubtedly the proper decision.”

City officials think there is no physical reason why more tenants can’t be ready for the Sprint Center.

Rick Usher, downtown projects coordinator, said that J.E. Dunn has reported that the shells of the retail structures on three of the core blocks have been completed and are ready for tenants to begin finishing work.

The fourth block, the location of Kansas City Live, the live music hub of the district, is awaiting the installation of a canopy that will shelter a plaza flanked by two levels of restaurants and bars.

Usher also said J.E. Dunn and Cordish have reported that the streetscaping work for three of the four core blocks in the district should be finished by August and the Kansas City Live block by late September.

“Cordish is saying they can’t tell the businesses to open when they (Cordish) want,” Cauthen said. “I think they can. We think there’s enough business that will be occurring between October and the end of the year.”

To impress that point, the city has sent letters to six businesses that already had announced they were coming to the Power & Light District offering to help speed the process.

The letter signed by Cauthen and Funkhouser states that between October and March the Sprint Center will hold more than 50 events drawing more than 420,000 people. It also estimates the new College Basketball Experience adjoining the arena will attract 100,000 visitors.

“With so much planned activity and so many visitors within a short walk of your new businesses, it is the perfect time to continue the momentum of so much progress,” the retailers were told.

“As a courtesy to you and to continue to be an eager partner in making our downtown revitalization a success, the city has expedited the permits you require to complete the build out and interior finishes on your leased space.”

Businesses receiving the letter were Chipotle Mexican Grill, Famous Dave’s Barbecue, Gordon Biersch, Sprint Nextel, Ted’s Montana Grill and Houlihan’s, which plans to open a Bristol Seafood Grill.

“We’re continuing to move forward with the work we have to do on our end,” said Bob Hartnett, chief executive officer of Houlihan’s Restaurant Group. “We hope to be open for business when everybody else is open for business.”

Allen Corey, president and chief executive officer of Gordon Biersch, said that having a mass opening in the spring was the best guarantee of a good start for the project’s retailers.

“Having 100 percent of the project opening at the same time is critical to both our success and the Power & Light District,” he said. “A Spring 2008 grand opening in conjunction with the Big 12 tournament is the right thing to do.”



Reproduced with permission of The Kansas City Star © Copyright 2006 The Kansas City Star. All rights reserved. Format differs from original publication. Not an endorsement.

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