Kansas City is among very few major American cities without a lively, vibrant open park space in its urban core.
That’s not for lack of real estate. Barney Allis Plaza is only about three acres, but it occupies prime position downtown next to the convention center and within two blocks of five luxury hotels. Currently, though, it’s not much of a park. With only tables, pergolas and grass, it could be better described as the decorative roof of a crumbling parking garage.
But something will have to change—and soon. A recent report from an engineering firm found that the parking garage under the plaza is in bad shape. The parking spaces are too narrow by modern standards, the concrete is deteriorating and both the ventilation and plumbing have serious issues.
However, that underground deck holds nearly a thousand cars. Replacing that parking is likely not financially feasible. Demolishing it and filling the hole alone will cost upwards of thirty million dollars. Replacing even some of the underground parking is estimated at sixty million dollars. For perspective, the entire Sprint Center cost two hundred and seventy-six million dollars.
Councilman Eric Bunch, whose district includes downtown, sees this as a chance for KCMO to have “an actual vibrant public space that we’re not getting right now” and put new parking elsewhere.
“Downtown has lots of parking,” he says. “For me, it’s more about using it as an opportunity to rebuild the plaza space on top. There are a lot of folks here saying, ‘We’ve got to build this parking!’ I would rather not build the parking.”
Some of the digital renderings for the plaza show a stage with a pavilion, a sprawling play lawn, a splash pad and a food truck zone.
“What can we do with Barney Allis Plaza, the park area on top, to make sure that this becomes a place for downtown Kansas City where people can have what might be considered the coolest backyard ever?” says city spokesman Chris Hernandez. “There could be park space. There could be space for art. You could have these big outdoor games. You could have a place to hear music.”
Unlike Bunch, Hernandez can see the city preserving the underground deck.
“If we can renovate it and keep using it, it’s already in place,” Hernandez says. “And you can still fix Barney Allis Plaza and do something better on top. We’ve had a study that recommended demolishing it and rebuilding it completely. Obviously, if we can find a way to keep most of the structure and fix what’s wrong, that’s an option.”
Already, one report has suggested that although repairing the deck and improving the park is the cheapest option, it’s merely a band-aid solution that “would not position the city as a good steward of public funds.”
The city is now having four teams compile design proposals and corresponding cost estimates.
“At this point, the only thing that is certain is that that parking garage is falling apart, and it’s getting to the point that it will be absolutely unsafe to use it and keep it open,” Bunch says.