Office towers weren’t exactly what Overland Park residents had in mind when they planned a vibrant Metcalf Avenue corridor full of shops and pedestrians. But city council members defended a project at 95th Street and Metcalf by the Shamrock Trading Corp. as a vast improvement that could one day accomplish the goals of Vision Metcalf, if indirectly.
The council unanimously approved a tax incentive package Monday that will allow Shamrock to get started on the first phase of building at the site of the former French Market. After demolition of that building, Shamrock will put up the first of three office towers in the $262 million project. The city will allow tax increment financing revenues (off part of the expected increase in property values) to go toward $39.7 million of some development costs. Another $7 million of the revenue will go to the city to make improvements along Metcalf from 91st Street to 97th Street.
“I know it is not exactly that mixed use we’ve been working on,” said Councilmember Chris Newlin. “But sometimes you’ve got to bring business to the area to hopefully spur something down the street.”
‘Not a bad project. But not a Vision Metcalf project’
Newlin and other council members were responding to comments from Melissa Cheatham, the only resident to speak during public comment on the project.
Cheatham conceded there were good points to the office project because of the new jobs and development it will bring to a long-vacant area. But “despite the positive aspects I still find myself disappointed that the project does not attempt to meet the Vision Metcalf standards,” she said.
The new office workers will likely arrive in cars, park in the garage and drive home at the end of the day, Cheatham said. “Unless they really like (the nearby) Red Lobster, most will probably eat in the building or drive somewhere else for lunch,” instead of gathering in public spaces, coffee shops, retail or restaurants nearby.
The office buildings will not afford the green public gathering space envisioned for that corner, and as a result, that part of Metcalf will miss out on the “energetic and lively vibe,” she said. “The Shamrock project isn’t a bad project. However it isn’t a Vision Metcalf project. There is no reason we need to choose between creating good jobs and building lovable places in our community. We can do both.”
Vision Metcalf originally called for a “grand public green space” and adjacent city hall at the 95th and Metcalf intersection. In fact, the public incentive deal with Shamrock gives Overland Park the right of first offer to buy the land if for some reason the company doesn’t build all three buildings and wants to sell.
City Manager Bill Ebel said Monday the city wanted that because it would be a strategic place for the park or gathering space mentioned in the Forward OP visioning plan that was endorsed Monday. The city was once negotiating for a new city hall on the space, but that was not a part of the latest discussions, he said.
In any case, Shamrock officials have said they have every intention of completing all phases of the project.
The Metcalf street improvement part of the deal could point things in the right direction as far as the looks of the street, Ebel said. The city already had planned to redo that section with raised medians, curbs, landscaping and burying of power lines he said. That plan is to “basically remove the state highway look that it has in that section,” and make the streetscape more compatible with Vision Metcalf, Ebel said.
The project had the support of council members because it will finally put something on a corner that has languished for around 15 years. Council members Faris Farassati and Gina Burke, who have been skeptical of some other tax incentives, said the office towers will improve what was becoming a blighted area.
Councilmember David White said the market will dictate what type of development will work on a hilly site that would make streetscaping difficult. “We don’t want the building to sit there empty for another five years or so,” he said. The offices will bring a projected influx of 1,000 employees along a major corridor and bus route, he added.
“All things considered, it’s not a bad plan at all,” he said. “While I agree it’s not necessarily what Vision Metcalf called for it’s pretty darn close.”