Representatives of First Washington Realty Inc. appeared before the Prairie Village City Council on Monday to float preliminary concepts for the redevelopment of Corinth Square South, and walked away with an earful of criticisms about fees on current tenants, the prospect of demolishing a building with historical significance, and the need for additional public financing for a project at a center where a community improvement district already exists.
Dallas Branch of CallisonRTKL, the design firm tapped by First Washington to lead the conceptual phase of the project, walked the council through a series of renderings that showed the company’s ideas for the center. First Washington’s concept would see the Mission Road Antique Mall building – which has stood on the site since the 1930s — demolished to make way for a two-story structure with ground level retail, 38,000 square feet of office space, and an attached multi-level parking garage.
The concept would also bring another new retail building to the space between the existing First Watch building and the Tide Dry Cleaners building, which would have space for retail tenants and a restaurant. The existing First Watch building would remain in place, but would receive a substantial facelift similar to what the Hattie’s building at Corinth Square North got last year.
Branch and First Washington executive Gregg Zike said the idea was to connect the southern portion of the shopping center, which is largely isolated at this point, to the northern part with more pedestrian access and more communal gathering areas.
“Retail is much more successful whenever you have it across the street from one another,” Branch said.
But First Washington found its ideas met with more than a healthy dose of skepticism from several council members, particularly concerning the suggestion that to make the project economically viable, the company would almost certainly need to seek additional public financing incentives on top of the community improvement district proceeds it already receives.
Though the First Washington representatives never specified the amount of additional money they would need in public incentives or the mechanism they would proposed to produce them, Zike indicated that it would be “almost impossible” to make the cost of building a multi-level garage — which they said would be necessary to ensure the development had enough parking — work without additional public finance incentives.
Councilman Dan Runion balked at that suggestion, wondering why First Washington would have purchased the centers for the price it did in 2014 if it knew it would be looking to redevelop Corinth South and that it would need to construct an expensive parking garage.
“Why would a billion dollar company need this sort of help?” Runion said. “Why…wasn’t [that] priced into the acquisition cost if you anticipated the possibility of redevelopment? Either it was priced in or it wasn’t. If it was priced in, why the request for additional assistance? If it wasn’t priced in…you guys are in business, right?”
Councilwoman Jori Nelson read a blistering statement taking the company to task for the rash of departures of longtime tenants since it took over the centers, and expressing indignation that First Washington would have the gall to seek additional public money to replace the historic antique mall building, which served as the stables of the Woolford Farms operation that produced Kentucky Derby winner Lawrin in the 1930s.
“You have plans to tear down their building and replace it with retail shops, office and a parking structure,” Nelson said. “That is a historic building built…before our city was even platted.”
Ultimately, the council voted to refer the issue to the city’s finance committee, instructing it to review the financial information First Washington had provided to the city’s financial consultant about the viability of the proposal. Councilmembers Steve Noll, Andrew Wang, Sheila Myers, Courtney McFadden, Terrence Gallagher and Runion voted to refer the matter to the finance committee. Nelson voted against the resolution. (The other council members were absent from Monday’s meeting).