'Going to collapse': Kansas City moves ahead to rebuild Barney Allis Plaza, garage

Nearly a year ago, a consultant hired by the city recommended the structure be closed immediately due to a "magnitude of code violations"


Allison Kite
The Kansas City Star
        
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite a tight budget year brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas City is moving toward rebuilding the downtown Barney Allis Plaza and garage, currently on "life support."

"If we do not replace the parking garage, we still have to do something with the plaza above because it's going to collapse into the garage at some point in the near future," said James Freed, the city's architect.

For years, Kansas City has made repair after repair to keep the 60-year-old structure standing. The garage, which is twice as old as its expected lifespan, has water leaking in, compromising the structural concrete and electrical systems. In some parts of the garage, crews have had to add extra steel to hold up upper levels. Pieces of the ceiling have fallen on parked cars.

"We really can't continue to ignore the structure or we're going to have to spend a lot more money that's just going to be wasted," Freed said.

The council's Transportation Infrastructure and Operations Committee voted 4-1 to pay $1.3 million to get designs for a new garage and plaza, which will lock in a price for the project. That way, according to the legislation's sponsor, Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, Kansas City can take advantage of any infrastructure or stimulus funds Congress may approve.

The full City Council is expected to consider the issue on Thursday.

Nearly a year ago, a consultant hired by the city recommended Barney Allis be closed immediately because of a "magnitude of code violations." City Hall had already been wrestling with what to do with the garage and plaza. But in the meantime, it shelled out $1.5 million to repair the garage's ventilation system.

Now the top two levels of the garage are open.

Freed said the city has been "throwing good money after bad" to keep the garage from failing.

At the same time, it began work toward hiring a firm to design and build a new garage and plaza.

The legislation the committee passed Wednesday pays McCown Gordon more than $800,000 for that work and extends a contract with an outside owner's representative, CBC Real Estate Group, overseeing the project for the city.

It does not outline how the city would pay for the replacement. An amendment added Wednesday asks that the team not only plan for a new garage and plaza, but also study "substantial alternative commercial real estate uses, including retail and office space and high-rise housing."

Previous estimates have said it would cost $61.6 million to replace 40% of the parking spaces in the current garage. That plan would also lower the plaza to street level to make it more accessible to pedestrians. The current plaza is underutilized, in part because it's lofted above street level and can't be seen on two sides.

The total $1.3 million the committee voted to authorize will be paid for by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. In exchange, the project would be required to include transit stops. If the project doesn't proceed, the KCATA would be reimbursed by City Hall.

The legislation had wide support from downtown boosters and construction industry representatives who turned out on Wednesday.

Councilwoman Teresa Loar, who chaired the committee in Mayor Quinton Lucas' absence, criticized the idea of moving forward when the city doesn't know how it will pay for the garage.

City Hall is in the midst of a budget crisis brought on by the pandemic. In its 2021 fiscal year, which ends April 30, it's expected to spend half of its reserves. A budget proposal put forward by Lucas and City Manager Brian Platt would spend down even more.

Loar, among those who championed a $36 million soccer park in the Northland that was approved by the City Council last month, said no one disputed that the garage needed to be replaced. But she said she was concerned about paying for the project.

"This city has so many needs right now, so many, and we're in a budget deficit," Loar said.

Loar was the sole vote against the legislation.
     
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