Construction booms in Kansas City

October 01, 2004 |

After years of slumber, downtown Kansas City, Mo., is waking up. Kansas City-based tax accountant H&R Block will break ground for a new headquarters downtown this month. J.E. Dunn Construction is the general contractor for the 500,000-sf building, which is scheduled to open in late 2006.

H&R Block's decision was followed by Baltimore-based developer Cordish Company's announcement of its plan to create Kansas City Live, a nine-block development with 425,000 sf of retail and entertainment space.

360 Architecture, a 100-member firm formed in July as the result of the merger of Kansas City firms CDFM2 and Heinlein Schrock Stearns, is the architect of record for H&R Block and Kansas City Live (with Beyer Blinder Belle of New York City as design architect).

Plans for the $250 million Sprint Arena were set in motion in August when voters approved an increase in hotel and car rental taxes that are expected to generate about half of the arena's construction cost.

The quest for the arena design commission has prompted hometown sports design firm rivals HOK Sports and Ellerbe Becket to join forces as the Downtown Arena Design Team. California architect Frank Gehry has also submitted a proposal. Gehry's team includes Crawford Architects, with offices in Sydney, Australia, and Kansas City.

Competition between the design teams, as reported in the local media, has been spirited. The Kansas City-based team (which includes 360 Architecture) charged that none of Gehry's arena designs has ever been constructed. Gehry shot back, questioning whether the local architects have designed any sports facilities worthy of the term "architecture." The city was to have interviewed the teams last month.

Meanwhile, the 31-story, 73-year-old Fidelity Building is being converted from offices to 179 residential apartments to serve a strong demand for downtown housing. Initial occupancies are expected next summer. The building was constructed in 1931 as a bank and in 1951 became the Kansas City Federal Office Building.

Dallas-based Corgan Associates is the architect for this conversion. Des Moines-based Weitz Company is the general contractor, with the Simbol commercial unit of Kimberly-Clark Co. as developer.

Mike Connell, project architect with Corgan, says historically significant areas on lower floors, including the bank's original boardroom and part of the original lobby, are being restored.

Because the building had only one stairwell and a narrow exterior fire escape, a new stairwell is being constructed between the fifth and 31st floors. Since the building's floor heights vary from 10 feet, six inches to 17 feet, an octagonal plan of the stairways allowed the size of the landings to be adjusted to accommodate a varying number of stairs between floors.

In addition to these projects, the 170,000-sf Kansas City central library opened in March in the renovated 100-year-old First National Bank Building. HNTB was architect for the $23 million project, with J.E. Dunn as general contractor.

The Kansas City Star's new 424,000-sf, $199 million production plant is scheduled to begin operating in early 2006. It is being designed and built by The Austin Company, Cleveland.

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