The pandemic has cast such a dark shadow over retail development that Overland Park officials are considering whether to allow some of the planned stores and restaurants in the downtown Edison District Project to be leased as office space instead.
The project, at the southwest corner of 80th Street and Marty Street, has hit a major snag finding retail tenants, prompting developer Overland Park Real Estate LLC to ask the city for permission to put small offices in what would have been retail space in around 10,478 square feet of available area on the first floor next to the Strang food hall and in the single-story western building.
Office space there would be better than the alternative – vacant storefronts in the city’s premier downtown location along 80th Street, said lawyer Curtis Petersen in a letter that also requested extended expirations on tax increment financing and sales tax exemptions.
The city council’s Finance, Administration and Economic Development committee unanimously approved the requests Wednesday in the council’s first meeting since returning to an all-remote format due to the pandemic.
Petersen told the committee that the developer just wanted more flexibility when it comes to tenants, since it’s been very hard to find new in-line retail tenants during the pandemic.
Councilmember Logan Heley supported the idea, but said the developer should be mindful of the overall feel of the development. Edison was proposed as a way to keep downtown vibrant by bringing in a mix of retail and entertainment in a walkable environment with office and apartments. A portion of the project is already committed as Class A office space.
“I completely understand the need for more flexibility but I also don’t think a title company next to Strang Hall really presents the vibe we want down there,” Heley said.
Petersen said the developer shares that same vision of downtown and would keep that in mind.
In the request letter to the city, Petersen said the developer had “great initial interest” from office tenants, but that action stalled once people began working and shopping from home. Bricks-and-mortar retail had been very slow anyway, as internet marketing took hold, he noted, but “Covid has made small shop retail beyond challenging.”
The developer and city have had a redevelopment agreement since 2018, but expiration dates are approaching as early as the end of this year on a sales tax exemption on construction labor and equipment, for example. In the meantime, the developer must make millions of dollars of improvements for its new office tenants, Petersen wrote. The committee also approved requests for extensions of one to two years on the expirations of those tax certificates.
The question will go on to the full city council.