by David Martin
Mayoral candidate Jim Rowland went to Unity Temple on Tuesday to court favor with and instruct the Don't Mess With the Plaza crowd.
Rowland encouraged opponents of the proposal to plop an 8-story office building on one of the Country Club Plaza's original blocks to bombard the city council with phone calls and e-mails. A former councilman, Rowland knows something about the power a full voice mail box has on elected officials. "Just raw, unabashed politics -- and that's the way you can win," he said.
A crowd of about 75 people met in the worship center to learn more about the suburban-style office building and how they could stop it. Katheryn Shields, the former city councilwoman and Jackson County executive, talked about the plan the city adopted in 1989, which restricts the heights of buildings on the Plaza proper. Shields said that battle was fought and won.
"We already have compromised," she said. "We compromised when the Plaza plan was written and adopted."
Jacob Wagner, a professor of urban design at UMKC, handled the PowerPoint portion of the program. There were hisses when Wagner showed an image of the proposed headquarters of the Polsinelli Shughart law firm, a building only lawyers would love.
Wagner said the structure would defile the architectural integrity of the Plaza without improving Kansas City's economic fortunes. The only jobs moving to the Plaza, Wagner said, would come from downtown, where Polsinelli Shughart stations some of its lawyers.
Questions and comments focused on the loss of public parking and the increase in vehicle traffic, should Polsinelli Shughart and the Plaza's owner, Highwoods Properties, have their way. Of course, no meeting of this kind is complete without a lunatic comment or two. "They can build over at Bannister Mall," Unrealistic Angry Man exclaimed from a pew.
Rowland burnished his preservationist credentials. He reminded the audience of his efforts to keep big boxes out of Brookside and to halt the destruction of a different J.C. Nichols original, the Park Lane apartment building. He also spoke about the importance of "placemaking," and how areas like the Crossroads and the Plaza give a city its personality. "We don't have enough of these places, and we can't lose the ones we have," he said.
Rowland stood up for urbanity as a councilman. I can recall a council meeting in which he grimaced as Northlander Bonnie Sue Cooper said she loved living on a cul-de-sac.
Rowland suggested to the Friends of the Plaza, as opponents of the project are now calling themselves, that the quality of their arguments is only one factor in the outcome. "It's important who you elect," he said at one point in Tuesday's meeting. Driving the point home, he mentioned that the city's mayor/council primary election will be held on February 22.
Correction added [11:40 a.m]: Original post indicated the proposed law building is 12 stories tall. It's actually eight, though Friends of the Plaza says the building "is the height equivalent of 14 residential stories."