Plaza Highwoods Building Position Final (JT)

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  AIA KCDraft Memorandum: Plaza Highwoods BuildingThis summer has seen a storm of controversy surrounding a new building to be developedand built by Highwoods Corporation, and occupied by the law firm of PolsinelliShughart, PC. The proposed building not only marks a potentially significant newstructure in Kansas City, but its design will also have a prominent impact on one of Kansas City’s great treasures – the Country Club Plaza.Over the last couple of decades, the area immediately adjoining the historic core of thePlaza has seen a number of new structures, some of which are of a significant size.Because the Plaza is such a desirable location for many activities, and thus a magnet for development pressure, in 1989 the City of Kansas City pursued and adopted the PlazaUrban Design and Development Plan (aka the Plaza Plan). While the Plaza Plan hasguided a number of new development projects over the past 21 years, the proposedHighwoods development project differs in one main respect: instead of a project locatedon the periphery of the Plaza’s historic core, the new structure occupies a locationvirtually at its center.It’s rare for the Kansas City chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA KansasCity) to take a public position that would be in opposition to a building proposal. As a professional association of architects, we certainly have a diverse set of opinions as to building aesthetics and design. But we also have a civic duty as professionals thatoccasionally should be exercised, especially in cases where unique Kansas City assets areinvolved.In this particular instance, AIA Kansas City believes the proposed building design needsto be significantly reconsidered. Architects by nature are problem-solvers, and let us stateemphatically here that we believe there is a design solution possible where all parties feelcomfortable in proceeding. Because of the legacy that the Nichols family has given us,however, and the international stature that the Plaza has given Kansas City, the currentdesign proposed for this location is simply not good enough.AIA Kansas City believes that in this debate it’s vitally important to return to the basic principles of the 1989 Plaza Plan, which have served us well. These are: ã The “Bowl” concept should be enhanced, pushing the proposed building further north up the hill, roughly in line with the Townsend Place building to the west. ã The retail core along 47 th Street should be preserved, not replaced by office uses ã The pedestrian experience should be of the highest quality on all sides, including46 th Terrace. As one of the most walkable areas of the City, this is critical. ã The architecture should complement the character of the historic Plazaarchitecture, as the Plaza Plan’s Design Guidelines suggest  The Plaza Plan actually recommends two other key items for this particular block – a)that it should not be rezoned, and b) that it should remain residential on the north side. Infact, following the Plan would allow for a 10-story residential structure on the footprintof the existing Neptune apartments. AIA Kansas City believes there’s room for compromise in these areas, with the proper design solution. A key obstacle toredesigning the block is the existing parking garage, and the ingress/egress needed for future development. In order to create a great solution, AIA Kansas City believes the proposed re-use of the garage is too restrictive, and a solution that considers removing thecurrent garage should be evaluated. Such an approach could result in a more appropriateurban design solution that develops a public amenity/entry space worthy of a public- private partnership.Like many American cities, Kansas City has few special places that make it unique. TheCountry Club Plaza is certainly one of them, and all of our efforts must be undertaken toenhance and improve these unique qualities. It’s the very nature of the Plaza with itsarchitecture and urban design that sets it apart, and makes it the international attractionthat it is. We should take great care to protect this valuable asset.Polsinelli Shughart has been a valuable leader in our business community for a very longtime, and we believe an office building for them on this block could enhance the Plaza if thoughtfully designed. Highwoods Corporation has also undertaken numerous physicalimprovements since they took ownership of the Plaza that have clearly resulted in its betterment. In our desire to keep the local economy moving forward, however, we cannotoverlook the impact that decisions made today will have on our success in retaining andattracting business and visitors in the future. We urge Highwoods to take a fresh look atthis block in the heart of our city, as we believe there is a design solution that will allowall interested parties to move this project forward in a form that improves our favoriteKansas City district.The Board of the American Institute of Architects-Kansas City
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