Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt Monday showed the city council a dramatic new concept to transform the city’s old swimming pool site and the adjacent limestone caves into a potential restaurant, retail, and entertainment center.
The site is along Roe Avenue at 48th Street. The city swimming pool was there until the early 1990s when it was closed and filled in. The limestone wall next to the old pool site has caves that were mined out and now have been backfilled to some extent. Marquardt estimates that 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of retail space potentially could be opened up inside the caves. He said the area at one time housed the showers and locker rooms for the pool.
In the drawings that Marquardt, an architect, produced and shared with the council, the retail or restaurant space can open onto a courtyard that could hold a large number of tables. That space, roughly the same size as the Power and Light District common area, could be used as an entertainment venue as well as for outdoor dining.
The city has been working on ideas for developing its vacant property, the old pool site and the northeast corner of Roe and Johnson Drive among them. Marquardt has been meeting with an ad hoc group of architects and other professionals to develop ideas. In showing the concept drawings, Marquardt noted the proximity to I-35, the large traffic count on Roe Avenue, the dense residential population in the immediate area and the high profile of the site. He also noted the relative lack of restaurant and bar service in the city.
Another possibility he said is to place a hotel on the top of the cave site. His plan showed the potential for 260 parking stalls close to the area and a total of 456 close by. The mayor acknowledged challenges with the steep topography of the area and engineering issues to make sure the space is usable and could support a building on top. “Dome outs” or open spaces at the top of the caves is another engineering question.
“How good of a project could we get out of this site,” the mayor posed. He said it is not sure the concept could be built, but that it might generate some excitement about possibilities for repurposing the area. He said some people have been mildly interested in the idea and some have been excited. Another concept that has been proposed is a restaurant incubator site at the space.
The mayor emphasized that the city does not have a deal for the site and is not working with any developers on a deal. He said he was “just talking about what people are thinking.”