With updated designs headed to planning commission Monday, Edison developer lobbies for community’s support

An updated rendering of the Edison District proposal that will go before the Overland Park Planning Commission Monday.

On Monday, the Overland Park Planning Commission will consider updated plans for the proposed Edison District development in the vicinity of 80th and Marty. And ahead of that meeting, the project’s driving force is hoping to build support for the concept.

In an essay released to the media ahead of Monday’s meeting, Tim Barton, the founder of the company Freightquote and the project’s developer, argues that the Edison would breathe life into the edges of downtown Overland Park. He notes that the “authenticity” of downtown Overland Park is what made it an attractive location for Freightquote’s offices early in the company’s history.

The historic portion of the Overland Park Presbyterian Church would be preserved, though the eastern part of the building would be demolished.

“We all found the Santa Fe area of old downtown Overland Park to be very charming,” Barton wrote. “However, what we realized is that much of the life and charm of DTOP drops off quickly the further off Santa Fe that you go: overgrown vacant lots, buildings in various states of disrepair, and shops struggling to make rents that were less than half the average rate in Johnson County.”

Barton said the goal of the Edison plans, which include a five-story multi-use structure and associated retail, is in part to increase the number of people located in the downtown area during the week, density that he believes would be a boon to existing businesses.

A street level view of the proposed five-story office complex.

“We plan to build quality office space for hundreds of people including flexible, small office spaces to attract entrepreneurs and their startups — all of whom we believe will also fall in love with downtown Overland Park,” he said. “These workers, combined with the new residents of The Vue and Avenue 80, will provide an increase in foot traffic for DTOP businesses.”

The idea of the new development has elicited strong pushback from several homeowners in the surrounding neighborhoods, who say that the project — initially described as resembling the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City, Mo. — would detract from the quality of life in the area.

In response to those criticisms, the group has made a number of changes to the designs for the new structures.

“Yes, these structures will be new, but our goal is to complement the existing architecture and provide a sense of cohesion and charm,” Barton wrote.

Among the changes made from the original plan are:

  • Updated building materials to more closely match the aesthetics of old downtown. The original plans for the building used more modern materials and design patterns that would have required the granting of a deviation by the city. “The first floor of the five-story building will have a solid brick color or precast color to differentiate it from the upper floors. The upper floors will have a solid material and color with some cast stone accents,” reads the Overland Park staff memo on the updated plans. “In staff’s opinion this new design also meets the rhythm required by the Form Based Code, therefore, that deviation is no longer required.”
  • Removal of permanent video screen in plaza area. The original version of the plan called for the incorporation of a permanent video screen installed on the outside of a parking garage structure, where it would be visible to people in an outdoor plaza/patio area. The updated plan removes the permanent television screen. “The large stairwell and TV attached to the parking garage previously proposed have been removed. A mobile video screen still may be used in this area,” reads the staff memo.
  • Reuse of 80th Street retail building. A single-story building fronting 80th Street has been slated for demolition under the original plan to make was for a two-story structure. Now, it will be left standing and refaced to match the new developments.

Barton said he believes the Edison District would make downtown Overland Park an example for other other communities looking to update their historic areas.

“Ultimately, it’s the mix of restored historic buildings, new buildings, restaurants, and activities that will create dense new urbanism with walkable, thriving streets,” he wrote. “Downtown Overland Park is squarely on a path to be a true epicenter for Johnson County, Kansas. We are excited to be contributing to this exciting transformation.”

The Overland Park Planning Commission will take up consideration of the updated plans at its Monday meeting, which starts at 1:30 p.m. at Overland Park City Hall.

Here’s a look at the original rendering of the office building and adjacent plaza area from early this year:

And here’s a look at the updated plans:

Barton’s full letter on the project is below:

In 2014, we were looking for office space to spin-off a startup from my company Freightquote. That company, Freightview, was mainly comprised of software developers. We sought an environment that was authentic, with the quirky nature of the Crossroads, but we didn’t want to ask our staff to commute far from Johnson County.

So, we started looking for a unique area on the south end of the metro. We looked for places with a sense of community and walkability: downtown Lee’s Summit, downtown Grandview, and Martin City. We ultimately chose downtown Overland Park (DTOP).

We moved our team into the old hardware store on Santa Fe. Employees walked to Clock Tower Bakery & Cafe for coffee and cinnamon rolls and had team lunches at The Peanut and The Other Place. We brought in pizza from Papa Keno’s and pies from The Upper Crust. We interviewed job candidates on the plaza by the clock tower, and we walked to Santa Fe Commons Park to decompress. We watched people walk by our windows, and we brought our own families back on warm nights and Farmer’s Market weekends.

We all found the Santa Fe area of old downtown Overland Park to be very charming. However, what we realized is that much of the life and charm of DTOP drops off quickly the further off Santa Fe that you go: overgrown vacant lots, buildings in various states of disrepair, and shops struggling to make rents that were less than half the average rate in Johnson County.

We are excited to see the multistory residential and retail spaces springing up around the historic core, and we’re looking forward to the new families and individuals that will be joining us as they take advantage of the various new and existing amenities.

We are in the process of seeking approval for a five-story office space and new food hall on the corner of 80th and Marty. Our plan is to bring even more authenticity to DTOP. Yes, these structures will be new, but our goal is to complement the existing architecture and provide a sense of cohesion and charm. Our food hall will bring local, chef-owned dining experiences to round out the restaurant options in the area. We plan to build quality office space for hundreds of people including flexible, small office spaces to attract entrepreneurs and their startups–all of whom we believe will also fall in love with downtown Overland Park. These workers, combined with the new residents of The Vue and Avenue 80, will provide an increase in foot traffic for DTOP businesses.

Our plans involve significant open areas, green space, and quality new construction combined with a conscientious view of preserving the truly historic (including the recently rehabbed Overland Park Bank Building from 1909; and the Presbyterian Church Building from 1928). While we understand there are those who would prefer DTOP remain the way it has been for over 30 years, we have confidence in the six new multi-story developments already under construction, as well as in our planned project. The next generation of DTOP will be vibrant and will attract–as well as retain–the young professionals and empty nesters who move away from Greater Overland Park in search of an energetic, authentic, walkable community.

Ultimately, it’s the mix of restored historic buildings, new buildings, restaurants, and activities that will create dense new urbanism with walkable, thriving streets. Downtown Overland Park is squarely on a path to be a true epicenter for Johnson County, Kansas. We are excited to be contributing to this exciting transformation.