A consultant tells KC that big retail could save Citadel Plaza

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Could a big box store like Walmart save Citadel Plaza?
  • Could a big box store like Walmart save Citadel Plaza?
In the retail industry, there's an old adage that "retail follows rooftops."

Which means: Retail stores such as Walmart and Target open in places where people already live, and where they expect those with good earning prospects to move in the future.

But a consultant hired by Kansas City, Missouri, seems to buck that analysis, suggesting that the blighted corner of 63rd Street and Prospect is ripe for four or five big-box retail stores.

It makes you wonder whether Philip Boname, president of Vancouver-based Urbanics Consultants, has read about the history of the old Citadel Plaza site. Has he even read his own study?

Boname stands to make up to $32,700 from Kansas City for his analysis of how to redevelop the contaminated 25-acre site that the Community Development Corporation of Kansas City botched. His solution: retail.

It's a familiar idea.

CDC-KC had retail in mind a few years back when it set out to develop a grocery-store-anchored project across the street from Research Medical Center. That project, the Citadel Plaza, became Kansas City's most infamous development flameout.

CDC-KC received an advance from the city to start work. But all that the corporation managed to do was stiff businesses and property owners on sale contracts and direct a subcontractor to bury asbestos. CDC-KC developers Anthony Crompton and William Threatt were eventually brought up on federal charges of improper asbestos remediation.

That didn't stop Threatt and Crompton from suing Kansas City, Missouri, resulting in a $15 million settlement.

Kansas City officials maintain that the settlement was a good deal because they got control of the Citadel property. City Hall has insisted that those indicted would not see a dime from the lawsuit's outcome. But Arvest Bank is now suing Threatt, claiming that he made off with settlement funds.

Surely Boname knew all of this when he showed up to a public meeting at the Southeast Community Center May 16, his market study in hand, to say that someone someday would make the Citadel site a retail success.
Anything is possible, but facts belie Boname's optimism.

For one thing, Boname's own report points out that Kansas City's retail scene is stagnant.

The Citadel's primary trade area, generally defined as a one-mile driving radius from the site, is losing population - it fell 17 percent from 2000 to 2010. One in every five homes is vacant. The median household income in this primary trade area is $28,055, far less than the Kansas City median of $44,113. About a third of the trade area's residents live below the poverty level.

So, yes, there's a reason that there's very little retail in this area of Kansas City.

But Boname translates this data differently. He showed several maps of big-box retailers (such as Lowe's and J.C. Penney) in the Kansas City area that aren't anywhere close to 63rd Street and Prospect, suggesting that the Citadel site presents an opportunity for one of those retailers to capitalize on the surrounding area's absence of chain stores.

A Lowe's or a J.C. Penney would take its own look at the neighborhood before committing, and it would note the troubles that nearby shopping centers have experienced.

Case in point: Pener Plaza, just a few blocks west on 63rd Street from the Citadel site, which is about 30 percent vacant. And a few blocks west of Pener Plaza, the Landing is 60 percent vacant.

One woman at the May 16 meeting said the area used to have big retailers. "We watched it inch away," she said, "little by little."

Boname deflected skepticism about his recommendations with the insistence that, if only the city found a developer sophisticated enough, his study findings could be brought to life.

"A lot of this is dependent on the marketing skills of the city," Boname said at the meeting.

And there is at least some encouraging news about the Citadel site.

Environmental workers have found only one parcel, among the 154 that make up the development spot, to have asbestos within the initial 4 inches of topsoil.

But city planners still plan to dig several feet deep on 69 of those parcels to see if asbestos, a mineral that causes mesothelioma, remains buried underground.

Meanwhile, soil analysis has found strong concentrations of arsenic deep below one of the parcels.

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