A plan to demolish a prominent church on the Country Club Plaza and replace it with a 12-story, mixed-use project is unfolding as the latest historic preservation battle over the soul of the venerable district.
Legacy Development wants to redevelop the current site of the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist at the northwest corner of 47th and Pennsylvania, according to a proposal submitted recently to the City Plan Commission.
The church, which opened in 1942, is considered one of the city’s finest examples of Romanesque Revival architecture, but it is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has no protection from demolition.
Historic Kansas City is scrambling to change that.
The preservation organization has applied to the City Landmark Commission to have the building designated a local landmark. If approved by the Kansas City Council, it could force a developer to wait up to three years before it could be torn down.
The church executive board, however, supports the redevelopment plan, which would also include new space for its congregation.
In a letter to the Landmark Commission, the board slammed the historic designation application, saying it was “abruptly and secretly presented, and we believe with probable ill intent.
“While we treasure our present structure and property, we have never considered it Historic, nor worthy of designation as such. We have never sought, nor do we intend to consider in the future, a 'Historic' designation,” the letter stated.
A spokesperson for the church declined to comment, and Legacy officials were unavailable for comment.
Attempts to reach Historic KC were unsuccessful.
The group, however, has asked the Landmark Commission to delay consideration of the application originally scheduled for this Friday to January 25.
The plan filed by Legacy Development calls for the first two floors of the proposed, 110,000 square-foot building to be used as a new home for the church along with retail and restaurant space.
The third and fourth floors would be office space, and 48 apartments are planned for the top eight levels. BNIM is the architect. If approved, the application timetable calls for construction to begin in June 2019 with completion in August 2020.
The clash between the developer and church on one side, and preservationists on the other, is the latest struggle over the look and feel of the Country Club Plaza, an iconic district that is a big part of Kansas City’s identity.
While its original developer, J.C. Nichols, designed it in the 1920s to recall the history and architecture of Seville, Spain, it never has been designated a historic district. That’s because of the restrictions on any significant changes in its appearance.
The most recent battle occurred in 2010 when Highwoods Properties, the Plaza’s former owner, proposed demolishing the original Balcony Building at 47th and Broadway and replacing it with a headquarters for the Polsinelli law firm.
The development plan was fiercely opposed by preservationists and the Friends of the Plaza group.
Even after Highwoods backed away from demolishing the landmark and shifted the project a half-block north to the site of the Neptune Apartments, opposition continued.
Polsinelli eventually decided in 2011 to locate its headquarters to be the anchor tenant at what was then the West Edge project at 48th and Roanoke Parkway.
Historic Kansas City’s application to have the church building at 604 W. 47th St. listed on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places has the support of the Landmark Commission staff.
“The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist is an excellent example of the Romanesque Revival style, specifically the latest evolution of the style that witnessed a resurgence in the 1940s,” according to the staff report.
In its letter to the Landmark Commission, the church executive committee said the effort to have the building designated a historic landmark came as a surprise.
“It is curious that despite several meetings over the past two years with city staff, councilpersons, and members representing themselves as connected with Historic Kansas City, there has never been mention of our Church Property being designated as such,” the letter stated.
It also alludes to another dispute.
“We are especially perplexed that this application has been ‘sprung’ on us in such haste and at a time when we are involved with legal entanglements with a neighboring property owner,” the letter stated.
While the neighboring property owner is not identified, Block Real Estate Services is building a 13-story office project called 46 Penn Centre immediately to the north of the church.
Developer Ken Block said the proposed project on the church site far exceeds the height allowed under what’s known as the Plaza Bowl Plan.
The city established the Bowl Plan in the late 1980s. Its goal was to allow taller buildings on the outer edges of the Country Club Plaza while restricting the height of projects in its central core.
“The proposed project is more than three times the height limit allowed in the Midtown/Plaza Area Plan,” Block said.
“It allows for 45 feet, which is about three stories. The developer has proposed 12 stories at over 150 feet in height.
“We hope the City will remain consistent and stand firm, rejecting any wild variances of the Midtown/Plaza Area Plan for properties in the bowl, which has broad support from historians, preservationists, advocates, neighbors, property owners and retailers.”
Block added the legal issue referred to in the church letter was not related to his firm’s concern about the proposed building’s height.
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.