Overland Park council thinks redevelopment of convention center parking lot could revive College Boulevard ‘dead zone’

Overland Park leaders think the Overland Park Convention Center parking lot could be an opportunity to develop entertainment options for what has been described as a “dead zone” for fun.

With spring and an approved concept plan, Overland Park officials said Monday they’re eager to take the first steps toward an improved College Boulevard corridor they hope will bring life back to what is becoming an entertainment dead zone.

Council members endorsed the first action steps of their new College and Metcalf corridor plan, allowing staff to start work on it as early as this month. Some members were particularly enthusiastic to take a look at how the convention center parking lot could be better used.

With the vote, they set in motion plans for a traffic and engineering study — to look at the feasibility of reducing the number of lanes on College – plus a parking analysis. Those two projects, budgeted for $175,000 altogether, could begin this year.

In addition, the city will seek help from the Urban Land Institute for how best to redevelop the convention center parking lot. The Urban Land Institute is a non-profit research organization specializing in sustainable and progressive development. Plans will also be put in motion for a food truck pilot project.

The convention center lot has been mentioned often by council members as an expanse of parking that could be better used, though there have been no specific plans set forth. Ideas have been floated for a combination structure or shared space or something else involving transit. But the city will need a better handle on the parking needs of the area before going ahead with anything, city staffers said.

Monday night some council members said the lot is an attractive target because it is often empty and it’s on land the city already owns.

“The thing that really got me excited was the thought of redeveloping the parking lot. It could be huge,” said Councilmember David White. “I would really hope that idea could be pushed forward because it’s going to take a public-private partnership like we’ve never done before.”

The College corridor plan was intended to prevent one of the city’s premier locations from becoming a dead zone. City officials have worried that its outdated design, emphasizing fast-paced traffic and offices, has resulted in a loss of retail and entertainment dollars to other areas like nearby Leawood. Because the wide streets are unfriendly to pedestrians, the office workers who are there during the day go elsewhere after the workday is over.

Some council members compared the long-range vision for College to the form-based code of downtown Overland Park. That type of planning, which emphasizes a mix of uses and pedestrian-friendly streets, has proved successful in bringing people to downtown. Eventually, College Boulevard may have fewer lanes, more landscaped streets and centralized parking, according to the plan.

“For us (the form-based code) was ahead of our time,” said Councilmember Richard Collins. That kind of thinking might also work for College Boulevard, he said. “This is not going to happen overnight, just like downtown Overland Park didn’t happen overnight. It’s still a work in progress.”

Councilmember Faris Farassati cautioned that the city should be careful not to compete with private developments, like Brookridge, that may be trying to accomplish the same thing.

The changes are a necessary step for Overland Park, said Councilmember Curt Skoog. “You don’t have to look far across the country to see suburban office parks dying,” he said.