Kansas City, Here I Come

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When rhythm-and-blues singer Wilbert Harrison topped the pop charts in 1959 with his hit “Kansas City [Here I Come],” he couldn’t have known just how far the city would go.

When compared to the financial tumult of the rest of the country, the bi-state urban area has maintained its economic composure. Marcus & Millichap research for the second quarter reported the Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., retail market was recording growth alongside the metro’s employment base, population and incomes. On the retail supply side, developers will have added about 3.3 million sq. ft. by year’s end—compared to 1.4 million sq. ft. in 2007.

Large mixed-use projects have strongly skewed the square-foot delivery numbers upward. And, of those new developments, the new Kansas City Power & Light District has delivered the Midwestern city into the ranks of retail and entertainment powerhouse (see story on page 106).

Because I live just about 200 miles from Kansas City, I have experienced the city’s growth—and have seen firsthand the excitement created by the Power & Light District. Developed by The Cordish Cos., out of Baltimore, Power & Light sprang from a crumbling downtown core, long overlooked while the suburbs sang. To the south of downtown is Westport, the longtime destination district for dining and nightlife. North of Westport is the famed Country Club Plaza, touted as the country’s original lifestyle center, but viewed by locals as an upscale shopping neighborhood of unique nooks and crannies. Power & Light is a medley of both, and then some.

Designed as a 24/7 neighborhood, Power & Light is a nine-block stretch in downtown Kansas City that links the renovated convention center and new Sprint Center arena with entertainment and cultural destinations, residential developments, offices and hotels. It is vast, and it is lively. Breweries, upscale lounges and Irish pubs share block space with high-end eateries and burger joints.

KC Live!, inside the District, is a city block of hot spots, with live entertainment and giant video screens showing college and professional sports (a football fan’s paradise).

It’s hard not to respond to the energy inside Power & Light. You can feel it and smell it and hear it—and it has a magnetic effect on those of us who live outside Kansas City. I talked with Blake Cordish, VP of development for The Cordish Cos., and he told me that the numbers coming from out of state are significant. “We recently did an exit poll of guests, and it turned out that 28% of the 4 million visitors in the first six months of the District’s operations traveled over 100 miles,” he said.

No big surprise, considering what surrounds Kansas City. Neighboring Nebraska has Omaha and Lincoln, neither with anything close to K.C.’s offerings, and Iowa has Des Moines. Trust me, there’s nothing like Power & Light in Des Moines.

Not everyone is singing the District’s praises—I’ve read complaints about crowds, the strict dress code and plenty of grumbling about security bullies—but most of the pundits agree that the downtown destination has given Kansas City a new vitality, palpable from at least a state away.

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