KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Highwoods Properties wants to build a $57 million headquarters for Polsinelli Shughart in the heart of the Country Club Plaza that would require demolishing a historic structure.
The new eight-story office building would accommodate 500 employees of the law firm and would be located two blocks east of its current main office.
The development proposed for the northeast corner of 47th Street and Broadway would require razing a 1920s vintage Plaza building as well as the more modern 96-unit Neptune Apartments.
W. Russell Welsh, the law firm's chairman and chief executive, said Wednesday that several locations, including a vacant downtown development site near the Sprint Center and the bankrupt West Edge project on the west edge of the Plaza, were considered before settling on the location offered by Highwoods, the North Carolina company that owns the shopping, entertainment and office district.
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"We could not be more pleased to have our own building in the center of the Plaza, where our firm began nearly 40 years ago," Welsh said. "The location is like Main and Main, right in the center of the Plaza. It's a location our clients like to come to."
The 192,000-square-foot building would be completed in the fourth quarter of 2013. Highwoods officials say they will not seek tax incentives to assist with the development.
"This new headquarters building is destined to further enhance Polsinelli Shughart's presence in Kansas City and will bolster the long-term success of our Country Club Plaza, which remains a premier destination throughout the Midwest," Ed Fritsch, Highwoods president and chief executive, said in a statement.
But for some, the decision to demolish part of the historic fabric of the Plaza to make way for a new office building appeared to be rushed.
"I think it would be very shortsighted to not study the impact of this project to the fabric and environment of the Plaza," said Scott Lane, president of the Historic Kansas City Foundation.
The Plaza, built in the 1920s by visionary developer J.C. Nichols, is widely considered one of the most distinct shopping districts in the United States, but it does not have landmark protection. Nichols and Highwoods have resisted having the area listed with the National Register of Historic Places.
"There's no question, it destroys a sense of what the Plaza was and what it has been," said William Worley, the author of the 1990 book "J.C. Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City."
"At one level, not having anything sacred in the Plaza would fit in with J.C. Nichols' thinking," he said. "But in his lifetime, he resented office buildings on the Plaza. He said they blocked parking for shoppers."
Worley said the 4,000-square-foot retail structure that would be razed is known as the "balcony building" and features the tile work and decorative flourishes that distinguish the Spanish-influence architecture of the Plaza.
He added that construction of a large office building at the corner could increase traffic congestion in the area, not only in the Plaza, but also in the residential neighborhood north of the intersection.
Welsh said other parts of the historic Plaza have been demolished in the past, noting that a section was razed to accommodate the former Saks Fifth Avenue department store.
"It's just a part of that corner that's being affected," he said.
"I have no regrets about that. I'm pleased we can keep 500 employees in the center of Kansas City. There were a lot of incentives we could have used on the other side of the state line."
The Neptune Apartments building is about 90 percent occupied.
The project would incorporate an existing parking garage on the east side of the block between Broadway and 46th Terrace.