What if the Country Club Plaza had a park, a curling sheet or, as its name suggests, a piazza? These are the ideas real estate and architectural experts across Kansas City are spitballing now that there’s an empty block of prime real estate.
That large hole has been staring people in the face for years. But up until recently, there had been plans for it: Nordstrom was going to move from Oak Park Mall to the Plaza. But in April, Nordstrom announced that the department store was staying put. The space now sits empty, and there is not yet a plan for what will go there, according to a spokesperson from Taubman, the company that owns the Plaza.
“Taubman is actively reviewing alternative plans for the location and looks forward to making an announcement in the near future,” says spokesperson Maria Mainville.
Kansas City magazine talked to seven knowledgeable local people about what they think the Plaza can do with the space to help revitalize the century-old shopping center. Everyone we talked to shared a passion for the Plaza, but many admitted that it’s seen better days. They spoke of times when the Plaza had a grocery store, when local events and races made it their starting and ending points, and when the Plaza tennis courts would be transformed into an ice skating rink in the winter.
As the Plaza celebrates its 100th anniversary, how can it use the Nordstrom space to pump energy into everything around it, instead of—as one interviewee noted—just choosing the highest paying tenant?
“With Nordstrom no longer coming to the Plaza, there is a real opportunity to think outside the box and create some new kind of new destination. It could be a place like Eataly that combines the restaurant experience with a marketplace. Or there’s an opportunity to anchor the Plaza with not only iconic architecture but also a significant open space that rethinks the streets by designing a curb-less environment that allows access to the retailers but balances the pedestrians with the cars and has the ability to be temporarily closed to traffic for special events or at certain times during the week.” — Lynn Carlton, director of planning at HOK
“I think the ex-Nordstrom space is a chance to make a new park: a place where you could sit with a friend or your dog, meet someone new, get a coffee or a drink, buy a snack, people watch… Maybe in the wintertime, there could be a curling space.” — Mike Sinclair, professor of practice in KU’s School of Architecture and Design
“I would love to see the Plaza provide more of a mixed approach, where it’s a combination of smaller, pop-up restaurant-type establishments or pop-up retail, giving people an opportunity to grow their brand in Kansas City. It’s called the Plaza, and when I think of that, I think of a public piazza space. And yet there really isn’t a large space for gathering and entertainment.” — Dominique Davison, founder of DRAW Architecture and Urban Design
“The Plaza is at the heart of Kansas City and should always be one of the epicenters for entertainment, activity and social gatherings in KC. The Plaza Lights Ceremony and the Plaza Art Fair are great examples of that. So whatever goes into the plot of land that Nordstrom was going to take over needs to be anything that excites Kansas Citians and visitors.” — Greg Moore, chief operating officer at Charlie Hustle
“What the Plaza has to do, in my opinion, is make it a space for both business and residents. You’ve got to have people closer by who will support [the Plaza] and support the existing restaurants that are there and support the existing shops that are there.” — Tony Tocco, professor of accounting at Rockhurst University
“The site is unique and somewhat tucked into the Country Club Plaza. Utilize the parcel to test specific consumer demand. E-commerce and BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) has changed a lot of the landscape. I do think that the right high-quality, mixed-use development with multi-family atop would be a great addition.” — Michael Collins, founder and CEO of Grayson Capital
“Malls and shopping centers faced a very uncertain future. The initial assumption was that online would continue to dominate, but there has been a return to traditional habits from an interesting group: the Gen-Z consumers. They were forced into isolation for two years and now emphasize personal contact and interaction. They are returning to the mall for social contact as much as for shopping. Retail has always been partly about entertainment, but with Gen-Z, this aspect is now paramount. If the Country Club Plaza wants to capture this Gen-Z renaissance, it needs to play to the social contact aspect of the shopping experience.” — Chris Kuehl, director of Armada Corporate Intelligence
Lauren Fox is a former features reporter with the Lawrence Journal-World whose work has also appeared in the Star, Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News. She lives in Lawrence and her hobbies include biking, playing cards and watching Notre Dame football flop in the playoffs.
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