In the nation’s heartland, Kansas City is a considerable hub. Straddling two states in the center of the country, the Kansas/Missouri city routinely draws visitors from neighboring states Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma, who make the one-hour to half-day drive to shop the historical Country Club Plaza, visit The Legends at Village West, grab a game at one of the city’s many sports venues or dine in Soho-like Westport.
Despite its ample offerings, though, Kansas City lacked a vibrant downtown core. And that was apparent to no one more than Stanley Durwood, founder of locally based AMC Theatres. Durwood dreamed of a downtown entertainment district and, after his death in 1999, the company continued to fight for a downtown Kansas City resurgence. However, nothing budged until Baltimore-based The Cordish Cos. entered the picture.
“It had been the goal of the city for multiple decades to re-create the downtown and revitalize the core of the city,” said Blake Cordish, VP of development, The Cordish Cos. “It was Stan Durwood’s dream to see the Power & Light District come into being, and what we have been able to accomplish is a result of the foundation he laid.”
Kansas City Power & Light District spans nine blocks on the south side of the downtown loop. Developed by The Cordish Cos., the mixed-use district features retail, entertainment, office and residential, and is named after the art-deco Kansas City Power & Light Building.
The newly built district is home to the 18,000-seat Sprint Center arena, H&R Block’s world headquarters and the renovated President Hilton Hotel. A one-block area within the district, called KC Live!, has two floors of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, plus a partially enclosed courtyard and concert venue. To come are additional hotel and residential towers.
“We are a huge believer that a lot of people find the downtown experience to be inherently appealing,” said Cordish. “We knew that the power district should have a high-energy nighttime orientation, and that the entire project had to feel authentic, as if it were born from its location.” To help achieve that level of authenticity, “We brought in Beyer Blinder Belle from New York, who is, in our opinion, one of the great urban-planning architects, and paired them with a terrific local planning firm, 360 Architecture,” said Cordish. “That blending, that dialog, was very important.”
To create authenticity, the team could not ignore the area’s past. Cordish fought to keep the historic Empire Theatre, which already had a demolition permit, and the Midland Theatre. At presstime, the Midland Theatre had just been reopened as a 3,000-seat concert venue. And the Empire is slated to reopen at the end of this year as “AMC’s flagship theater to the world,” said Cordish. The circa-1915, art-deco building, with its rotunda and soaring dome ceiling, will serve as a visual salute to the man who dreamed of the district that Cordish ultimately built.