The brick towers of Overland Park’s old French Market – a premier shopping center of the 1960s and landmark along Metcalf Avenue — may be coming down soon. At a news conference Monday, Bill Ryan said he hopes to begin demolition in a couple of weeks for a big expansion of his Shamrock Trading Corporation that will add 1,000 employees over the next five years.
“Hopefully we can start pouring the footings in early spring. I want the first tower up in a couple of years,” Ryan told the Post after the announcements were over.
The announcement capped a whirlwind month for an area that has been a lingering question mark for development along what Mayor Carl Gerlach called the spine of Overland Park.
Speculation has been going on for months over what would become of the now vacant structure that used to be home to a Kmart and Hancock Fabrics. A mixed-use development dubbed Central Square was once proposed there, but failed to gain any traction.
A few months ago, the space was being talked about as a possible site for a new City Hall building. But Shamrock officials began talking to LANE4 Property Group about buying the market three months ago because of the amount of space available to expand their offices. They closed on the sale July 13.
Shamrock owns the two glass towers and pond just across Metcalf and was considering a third building on that site to handle its fast-growing workforce, said Ryan, founder and chairman of the company. But that tract had only about seven acres of available building space that would have lasted only six or seven years before the company would run out of room again, he said.
The French Market, by comparison, has 30 acres to build on and could take care of the company’s needs for 10 to 15 years, he said. “We knew the property would be a big challenge. It’s a huge area, 30 acres, big buildings. It was empty. It was foreboding,” he said.
“Now when I look at this property I don’t see a rundown old shopping center. I see a beautiful campus with towers and commerce. I see the future,” he said.
The area to be developed includes the former shopping center plus the former Children’s Palace and a restaurant building that recently housed a Chinese buffet, but not the Red Lobster or Olive Garden on the south side.
The office development has yet to begin its journey through city planning, but Ryan said he’d like to start with a 10-story tower of about 265,000 square feet near the center of the property. The new jobs would be added as the buildings go up, with the average salary at about $56,000 a year, he said.
Gerlach and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer were on hand to congratulate and praise the deal. Gerlach said the expansion will trigger other development along Metcalf as excitement builds.
Colyer, who is facing a primary this month, touted Kansas’s 3.4 percent unemployment rate and 20,000 new jobs created over the past year as evidence of a good job-building strategy — numbers that he highlighted at a groundbreaking ceremony for Kiewit’s new Lenexa offices last month. He said his family used to drive from Hays to shop at the French Market once in a while. “It was a shame to see it die and wilt. But now it has life because of Shamrock,” he said.
Shamrock is working with the a couple of state incentive programs, including Promoting Employment Across Kansas and High Performance Incentive Programs, but those efforts are still in the early stages, said development lawyer Korb Maxwell.
The French Market began in the early 1960s as a discount store/supermarket combo with a French-international theme. In 1970, the French shopping area gave way to Kmart, which operated there until 2013.
Shamrock Trading Corporation began as a freight brokerage in 1986 but has since expanded to include companies handling financial services, international trade finance and fuel card programs.