The Dallas-based real estate firm Simbol Commercial is crossing its corporate fingers. The company's Rick Williamson hopes that a local or national restaurant operator will want to open a dining room in the Fidelity Tower, a 35-story building at the corner of Ninth and Walnut.
Simbol Commercial is putting together a feasibility study that, so far, foresees turning the former Fidelity National Bank Building into an office center and luxury-apartment complex. (The penthouse would have a master bedroom in the old clock tower.) The plans include a high-profile restaurant in the 8,000-square-foot space on the ground floor.
But that neighborhood hasn't been a dining destination since the Tea Room in the Emery Bird Thayer store closed 34 years ago. Williamson, who recently retained Block & Company's Mark McConahay as restaurant broker for the 71-year-old property, isn't out of touch with the cold reality of the situation. "There are 50,000 workers downtown who go to restaurants for lunch, but at night it just sucks," he says. "The people aren't there."
More people are living downtown, though, and Williamson thinks the right kind of restaurant -- "unique, attractive with a lower price-point menu at lunch, slightly higher at dinner" -- will attract the loft dwellers as well as inner-city-shy suburbanites. Besides, the building still boasts some gorgeous Art Deco details, relics of its first years as a highfalutin bank in the middle of the Depression. The financial institution didn't survive that economic slump, but the shiny brass stands where Fidelity National customers wrote checks did: They've been in the lobby of the city's main post office on Pershing Road for years.
National restaurant chains seem more drawn to the suburbs, but McConahay thinks a local restaurant operator "who has close ties to downtown [might] have the fortitude to try something off the beaten path." Still, he says, "it's going to take someone with vision."
At least one local restaurant visionary, Bill Crooks of the PB&J restaurant empire, is still wary of downtown. He and partner Paul Khoury experienced one of their few failures with City Scene at 12th and Main.
"I've been out of touch with downtown," Crooks says, "but I recently was in the River Market area and was pleasantly surprised with the progress going on there, particularly with the residential scene. But I'm not sure how that will translate into restaurant business. I think downtown Kansas City still needs a couple of more pieces in place before it becomes the next Minneapolis."
Williamson, who has developed similar urban concepts in Houston and New Orleans, is more optimistic. Of course, the success of his project still hinges on tax-increment financing and city support. Even though the building is no longer a bank, some financial theories still hold true: no deposit, no return.