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Country Club Plaza is under contract to Dallas retail company; deal could close by 2024

Spanish-style buildings with terra cotta clay tiles gleam in the morning light on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri. The 92nd annual Plaza Art Fair covers nine city blocks with artists selling paintings, ceramic and jewelry. Each year some 250,000 crowd the shopping area for the art fair.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
As the sale of the Country Club Plaza looms, city officials are looking forward to working with the new owners on pedestrianizing the Plaza and addressing crime.

The prospective new owners already own a similar luxury shopping district in Dallas and another in North Carolina. After the current owners of the Plaza defaulted on a nearly $300 million loan and demolished about three acres of the district to make way for a Nordstrom that never came, city officials are eager to work with new owners.

A Dallas-based retail company is under contract to purchase the Country Club Plaza, according to CitySceneKC. The company, HP Village Partners, owns Highland Park Village, a luxury shopping district in Dallas that is similar in age and style to the Plaza.

The Plaza has been declining in recent years under the ownership of The Macerich Company and Taubman Centers, based in California and Michigan, respectively.

A longtime plan for Nordstrom to move to the Plaza resulted in the demolition of part of a movie theater, bank, restaurant and parking garage, only for Nordstrom to back out of the deal last year. Last month, the owners defaulted on the Plaza’s nearly $300 million loan.

Kansas City Council member Andrea Bough, who represents the Plaza in the 6th district at-large, said she is excited about the prospective sale. As the Plaza faces rising violent crime, Bough said she’s interested in talking to both the current and prospective owners about how to improve the shopping district.

“I think it's a very positive step,” Bough said. “I think we have heard a lot of concerns recently about the Plaza, whether it's vacancies or wanting a new vision or talking about pedestrianization of the Plaza or replacements for the Nordstrom store. I think having a new vision, a new plan, new owners is something that has the potential for being very positive, exciting and something that I'm looking forward to learning more about.”

HP Village Partners and Ray Washburne, the prospective owners, recently purchased another open-air shopping center in North Carolina. Washburne, a prominent fundraiser for the Republican Party, is the former CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and member of former President Trump's intelligence advisory board.

Washburne is married to Heather Hill Washburne, who also has stake in the Plaza deal as a partner in HP Village Partners. Hill Washburne is a descendant of oil baron H.L. Hunt, father of Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt.

David Westbrook, a board member of the Plaza District Council, says the group welcomes the sale. He urges Kansas Citians to be open-minded about the new owners and said he welcomes any improvements they make.

“We have only received unofficial information, and so we are only unofficially excited,” Westbrook said. “We're very excited about what appears to be a really meaningful transaction that will take place with people who have a true success record in operating post-COVID retail destinations such as the Plaza, people who really understand the magic equity of the Plaza area and people who have the deep pockets that are necessary to make an investment like this work for everyone.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas said regardless of the sale, he will continue to work toward pedestrianization of the Plaza and ways to target the rising crime. Lucas said he’s excited about the sale and working to figure out how to get more people to the Plaza outside of big events.

“I think there are a lot of people who are trying to write the last rites for the Country Club Plaza,” Lucas said. “I was never that pessimistic. I do think that 10, 15, 20 years from now, I hope a lot of it looks the same, but I think we will see the Plaza as something different. And I think it's fair to say perhaps Kansas City and perhaps some of the owners over the years haven't jumped to that position as fast as we needed to.”

Lucas highlighted the similarities between the Plaza and Highland Park Village in Dallas, and said he believes an owner who knows about older properties will be more successful. He said this sale isn’t just about “how we get people and bodies into a mall, but instead how do I take care of a development that's really at the core of a community?”

The Plaza opened 100 years ago – developed by J.C. Nichols, known for his racist housing covenants that redlined Kansas City. As the city looks on to what the future of the Plaza looks like, Lucas said he thinks new ownership will be part of a solution. He pointed to strained communications between the city and the current owners, and said whoever buys the district needs to focus on incorporating more pedestrians and local establishments and restaurants into the Plaza’s growth.

“I think there will be a true urgency to address things like the giant dirt pit in the Plaza where the Nordstrom store was to go,” Lucas said. “And I would hope that we recognize we want the Plaza to be dynamic every day of the week, all year. We can't just live off of one or two big events. We need something that's special and unique.”

Still, Lucas said he will not greenlight any and all incentives the new owners of the Plaza may ask for without a clear benefit to the city. He noted that taxpayers already pay for things like parking garages in the shopping district.

Bough hopes the purchase is an opportunity for the new owners and city to work together to address its current issues.

“If someone is going to make an investment into any property, they're going to do their due diligence, they're going to want to make improvements,” Bough said. “They're going to want to ensure that their investment has a return. I think it gives us an opportunity to not only have discussions on how we can improve, but perhaps gain information from a new perspective or new owners or someone that has tried things in different markets while maintaining the seal of the Country Club Plaza and elements of true Kansas City.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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