Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2011

As hard as I rooted for Mayor Mark Funkhouser not to be re-elected, I never thought I’d be cheering him on his last weekend in office.

But today, two days before he likely will pass forever from Kansas City’s political scene, I’m shouting from my rooftop for his veto of Thursday’s ordinance that would allow for razing of the Neptune Apartments and construction of an eight-story office building.

Funkhouser, at a primary election forum

With this action, the mayor is leaving office on a high note. He’s standing up for the average citizen against the vested interests, and he’s defending the integrity of Kansas City’s crown jewel, the Country Club Plaza.

Opponents of the rezoning cheered this afternoon’s announcement of the veto.

“I’m a sailor, so I would say it’s sort of a freshening breeze,” said Michael L. Koon, a lawyer who is a volunteer leader of opposition group, Friends of the Plaza.

The new council, which will be sworn in Sunday, will have two weeks, Koon said, to override the rezoning ordinance, or it will die.

The outgoing council on Thursday approved the rezoning on an 8-3 vote, and it takes eight votes to override the mayor’s veto. However, seven new members are coming on board. That could greatly change the equation. Five of the six who are staying on voted in favor of the rezoning, so they need to pick up three more votes, if they are determined to push ahead.

The new members are Mayor Sly James and council members Jim Glover, Scott Wagner, Scott Taylor, Dick Davis, Jermaine Reed and Michael Brooks.

Asked how he thought the new council would approach the issue, Koon said, “I have to say we are cautiously optimistic that this group will be more receptive to the concerns that we’ve tried to raise.”

One of those incoming council members, Jim Glover, who previously served three terms on the council, strongly opposes the rezoning, mainly because he does not want to see the Plaza lose existing residential space.

“I just don’t like losing the bodies,” he told me in a telephone interview.

In its high-handed, sandpaper-rubbing way, Highwoods has already stopped renewing the leases of Neptune residents, and the building could be empty in a couple of months, unless Highwoods changes its tune.

Glover said it was important to keep a good balance of residential, office and retail on the Plaza, just as in other parts of town. He cited Quality Hill, the River Market and Crown Center as examples of a good balance of mixed use.

When a mixed-use area starts to tilt too heavily toward office buildings, he said, “it deteriorates.”

Glover pointed out, as other opponents have, that there are several other possible sites on the Plaza, already zoned for office space, where a new office building could go up. One of those is the West Edge, the aborted office building that auto dealer extraordinaire Cecil Van Tuyl recently picked up for less than $10 million. It has 900 below-ground parking spaces.

In the development business, parking is golden, and the West Edge runneth over. Even if it meant “scraping” the main existing, unused office structure at the site, the first order of business on the Plaza should be to make the West Edge viable.

Along with other opponents of the Neptune site, I would urge the new council to turn its attention to the West Edge — by far the worst example of blight we have ever had on the Plaza — and do whatever it can do to spur reclamation of that project.

Yes, Cecil Van Tuyl is a fat cat, just like a lot of the people who want to rezone the Neptune site, but his building is already there, and that eyesore needs to be fixed.

Correction: The council has until next Thursday, May 5, to override the veto, not two weeks.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Cowardly and Lame Duck City Council of 2007-2011 on Thursday presented Highwoods Properties, owner of the Country Club Plaza, with a plump, belated Easter egg.

Color it green.

If the rezoning of the Neptune Apartments at 46th Terrace and Broadway stands, paving the way for an eight-story office building, it’s probably going to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Highwoods over a period of 20 years or so.

The whole thing left me feeling empty and blue.

I share the view expressed by Mayor Mark Funkhouser, who voted against the rezoning, when he said: “I’m afraid (with approval of the rezoning) we will hit a tipping point that will unalterably change the nature of the Plaza.”

I think that with the council now having opened the door for construction of a high-rise office building east of Broadway, Highwoods will seek to continue the commercial march right on down — or behind — 47th, perhaps all the way to J.C. Nichols Parkway, where Commerce Bank and P.F. Chang’s are located.

Councilwoman Jan Marcason, left, listened to Councilwoman Beth Gottstein at Thursday's City Council meeting

The opponents, a group called Friends of the Plaza, still have a chance to defeat the rezoning, if they can mount a successful initiative petition and then defeat the measure at the polls.

To force an election, the opponents need the signatures of at least 7,144 registered voters — a number equal to 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the March 22 mayoral election.

They now have nine days to file a notice of petition with the city clerk, and then they will have 30 days before they have to submit their first round of signatures. After that, they will have an additional 10 days to gather more signatures.

I said in Wednesday’s post that I thought such a petition and ensuing vote would be successful, but after what I saw and heard Thursday, I think the opponents are bucking strong head winds. More on that in a minute.

Thursday’s rezoning took two actions. The first was passage of a resolution amending the 1989 Plaza Urban Design and Development Plan, which essentially limits commercial development to the west and northwest parts of the Plaza. The council approved that on an 8-3 vote.

The second was passage of an ordinance rezoning the Neptune site from residential to commercial. That also passed on an 8-3 vote.

Voting yes were Deb Hermann, Bill Skaggs, Ed Ford, Russ Johnson, Melba Curls, Jan Marcason, Cindy Circo and Terry Riley. Voting no, besides Funkhouser, were John Sharp and Cathy Jolly.

Opponents had expected Jolly to vote “yes,” and if that was her intention, she was the only person the opponents were able to swing around.

Fourth District at-large Councilwoman Beth Gottstein “recused” herself because her fiance, a physician, has an office on the Plaza. Third District Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks also recused herself but didn’t say why. Both are outgoing council members.

The council acted three days before its term concludes. The new council, which includes seven new members, will be sworn in Sunday.

Marcason, who, like Gottstein, lives in the 4th District, where the Plaza is located, defended the timing of the vote, saying: “The council has been dealing with this issue since August. I think the council felt it was appropriate that we were the ones to vote on this. We’re the ones with the information on this.”

In addition, she said, by not passing the hot potato to the new council, the outgoing council would give the newcomers “a period of tranquility.”

Highwoods, based in North Carolina, has been paving the way and anticipating this outcome for months. The firm has stopped renewing leases for residents of the Neptune, which are slated to be razed. The apartments could be empty within a couple of months.

Highwoods has a prospective tenant in mind, the Polsinelli Shughart law firm, which is currently housed a block or two west of Broadway. However, Polsinelli Shughart said on April 4 that it was dropping plans to inhabit a new building on the Neptune site because it has to be out of its current offices by the fall of 2013. In light of the possible referendum, the new building probably can’t be completed by then. And Highwoods cannot proceed until the matter is finally resolved.

The reason that Thursday’s approval was such a fat egg for Highwoods, however, is that if the ordinance stands, Highwoods can recruit another tenant and proceed with the Polsinelli Shughart plan, even if Polsinelli Shughart does not go into the building.

Council reconsideration is not needed as long as the plan stays the same.

And Highwoods should have no problem lining up another tenant, mainly because the Neptune site comes with 468 additional Easter eggs — ready-made, mostly below-ground parking spaces. The parking structure — the first Tax Increment Financing project in Kansas City — extends from the Neptune all the way over to Wornall, behind Houston’s restaurant.

The fact that the council rammed through the rezoning with Polsinelli possibly out of the picture was particularly galling to the opponents.

“There was no need to rush this through on the last (meeting) day of the council,” said Vicki Noteis, a paid adviser to Friends of the Plaza.

***

Now, about that initiative petition and possible referendum.

I think the opponents could be in a lost cause for three reasons:

First, the Plaza is not the go-to place that it once was for many area residents.

With the contraction of the urban core and expansion of the suburbs in recent decades, fewer local residents patronize the Plaza regularly. They go, instead, to places like Zona Rosa and Briarcliff Village (north), Independence Center (east), the Legends (west) and Oak Park Mall (south).

Consequently, the Plaza is not as near and dear to as many people as it once was, which means that, come election time, support for overturning the rezoning is likely to be concentrated in the Fourth District. That’s not a scenario for a citywide victory.

Second, the opponents’ ranks seem to be thinning and their will ebbing.

By the time the rezoning came up for a vote Thursday, only about 50 to 75 opponents were left in the 26th floor council chamber. That’s not enough to scare a council that has made up its collective mind; it takes busloads of raucous, angry opponents.

Frankly, the opponents looked more resigned than angry. After the first, telling vote, they put down their “Save Our Plaza” signs and quietly filed out. Why are they down? Well, the battle has gone on for months; the building plan has been revised twice, thinning the ranks of the opponents with each revision; and Polsinelli Shughart’s announcement that it was dropping out lulled at least some of the opponents into a false sense of security, as Highwoods played possum.

Third, Highwoods has time and money on its side.

Highwoods wants more density on the Plaza. That means more tall office buildings and fewer low-level retail stores. They’re shelling out probably millions of dollars to lawyers (Husch Blackwell) and others to get their way. Commercial development and office leasing is their bread and butter nationwide, and they’re dug in for the long haul.

“I think it’s an uphill battle,” Noteis said, referring to an anti-Highwoods campaign. “These people have a lot of money, and they have controlled the p.r. discussion from the beginning.”

It’s no fun watching the Yankees win, is it?

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I went looking for possible sites for big, new office buildings on the north side of 47th Street, east of Broadway.

I’m not a developer, let me assure you; I’m just a 4th District, Kansas City resident who is, and long has been, interested in what happens on the Country Club Plaza, the distinctive and true jewel of the city.

I went looking for possible construction sites because, if The Cowardly and Lame Duck City Council does what a lot of people expect it to do tomorrow, we could be seeing several more new office buildings between Broadway and J.C. Nichols Parkway in the coming years.

The issue tomorrow will be rezoning a site behind the Balcony Building, where the Neptune Apartments now sit, on the northeast corner of 47th Street and Broadway. Highwoods Properties, which owns the Plaza is seeking the rezoning to allow for construction of a high-rise office building, to be used by the Polsinelli Shughart law firm or perhaps another tenant, if Polsinelli Shughart can’t make the timing work.

The Neptune Apartments (background), proposed office tower site

In an interview yesterday, Vicki Noteis, a former city planning director who is advising the rezoning opponents, a group called Save the Plaza, warned that the rezoning could be precedent setting; it could mark the beginning of the end of the 1989 Plaza Urban Design and Development Plan, which essentially limits commercial development to the west and northwest parts of the Plaza.

Everywhere else, retail holds sway. Retail, which makes the Plaza a fun place to spend time and generates the bulk of pedestrian traffic, including our beloved visitors from Iowa, Nebraska and other Midwestern states.

“It’s really important to hold the line on this,” Noteis said. “It you break this line, I think you’ve got a problem. You have to respect a line someplace.”

If that line is trampled in the sand…

Well, how would you like to see a big, new office building on the site of Fogo de Chao, the Brazilian steak house between Wornall and Wyandotte? Or at the site of the Commerce Bank Building and P.F. Chang’s, between Wyandotte and J.C. Nichols Parkway?

Fogo de Chao, east of Wornall and east of Houston's

Could happen. It would take more rezoning, but, once the line is blurred, what’s to stop commercial creep from breaking into a run?

Highwoods, which bought the J.C. Nichols Co. more than 10 years ago, is primarily in the business of owning and leasing commercial properties — office buildings, that is. Its aim, said Noteis, is “higher density” on the Plaza. That means fewer low-level retail buildings and more high-rise office buildings.

And that’s exactly what opponents of this ill-conceived plan — including me — believe would ruin the character of the Plaza.

It’s true, of course, that Highwoods, which owns the place, has a right to put its vision forward. But we, the Kansas City residents who honor and appreciate what we see as the greater vision of the late Jesse Clyde Nichols and his son, the late Miller Nichols, should have something to say about what happens there.

If this deal goes through, the opponents will mount an initiative petition, which would put the rezoning to a public vote. If you’ll recall, voters rejected another grandiose plan — the Sailors project, on 47th, east of Main Street — in the 1980s.

I would expect a similar result on this issue.

***

Keep in mind that The Cowardly and Lame Duck City Council is taking up this issue three days before its collective term expires.

Seven of the 13 council members are leaving office. They are Mayor Mark Funkhouser, Deb Hermann, Bill Skaggs, Sharon Sanders Brooks, Beth Gottstein, Terry Riley and Cathy Jolly.  The other six — Ed Ford, Russ Johnson, Melba Curls, Jan Marcason, Cindy Circo and John Sharp — are going into their second terms and will be prohibited, by the city’s two-term limit, from seeking re-election in 2015.

Essentially, then, these council members — with the exception of any that might run for mayor in the future — can jam this rezoning down the throats of the public with impunity. There will be no way for city residents to hold them accountable at the polls in the foreseeable future.

Council members who are considered almost certain to vote “yes” are Skaggs, who is sponsoring the ordinance; Hermann; Ford; Johnson; Marcason; Circo; and Jolly.

That’s seven, which is what it takes to approve the rezoning.

Commerce Bank, east of Fogo de Chao

The proponents say they want to insure that Polsinelli Shughart and its 500 employees stay in KCMO. Ironically, however, it might not be Polsinelli Shughart that takes advantage of the rezoning. The firm needs to be out of its present building, on 47th Street west of Broadway, by the end of 2013, and a referendum easily could push the completion of construction well past that time.

So what we could see, Noteis pointed out, is The Cowardly and Lame Duck Council approving a rezoning for no particular tenant, just a neatly wrapped present for Highwoods to use whenever it wanted down the road.

“The city’s responsibility,” Noteis said, “is to find a site for Polsinelli Shughart, not to rezone property for Highwoods…The city fell headlong into the (Highwoods) trap. There’s no reason to push this through on behalf of Highwoods.”

***

It’s very odd that the rezoning charge is being led by Skaggs, who lives in the Northland, as far as you can get from the Plaza and still be in the city. The two council members who should have the greatest interest in the issue — Marcason and Gottstein, who live in the 4th District — have largely been AWOL.

Gottstein

Last week, when the council’s Planning and Zoning Committee took up the issue — and recommended passage on a 3-1 vote — Gottstein abstained, saying she had a conflict because her fiance, a physician, has an office on 46th Terrace, near Wornall. To that, I say LAME!

Marcason is not on the Planning and Zoning Committee, but she, too, has been “nowhere to be found,” as the narrator on “The First 48” frequently intones when referring to missing suspects.

In a check of The Kansas City Star’s electronic library, I found only two stories in which Marcason, who was re-elected without opposition last month, was quoted on the rezoning issue.

Early this month, after Polsinelli Shughart said it was pulling out of the plan to build on the site of the Neptune, Marcason was quoted as saying, “I think we were going to have a pretty thoughtful discussion. We just didn’t have the chance to work them through to a conclusion.”

Marcason

Last summer, after Highwoods and Polsinelli Shughart came forward with a redesigned plan — one that spared the Balcony Building, which faces 47th Street — Marcason was quoted as saying that the revised plan “looks very good.”

Yesterday afternoon, I put in a call to Marcason, and I spoke with her this afternoon. (She called this morning, but I didn’t pick up her message until late this afternoon. My apologies for the belated addition of her comments.)

She said she intended to vote for the rezoning for several reasons, including her desire to stop the loss of Missouri businesses to Kansas. “For us to say no, no, no (to the prospect of business expansion and development in Kansas city), I just don’t think that’s the message the council can afford to send at this time,” she said.

To the contrary, she said, Kansas City should be holding up a sign — figuratively speaking — that says, “Kansas City is not closed for business.”

Marcason also said that if the Polsinelli Shughart plan did not go forward because of the law firm’s time frame, Highwoods would have to bring any new proposal for the 47th and Broadway site back to the council for new approval.

Marcason said that the issue has become a tinder keg because of the badly flawed, initial plan that Highwoods and Polsinell Shughart came out with last year. That plan, which called for leveling the Balcony Building, turned many of the Save the Plaza people irrevocably against any subsequent plan that came forward. (The original plan has been amended twice.) Highwoods’ initial mistake, bad as it was, should not be held against the firm, Marcason said.

I appreciate Marcason’s comments, and I think her intentions are good and that she will vote on her conviction that the rezoning is in Kansas City’s best interests.

Still, to me, the greater concern is the “march of the office buildings” across Broadway. I think it’s a bad deal. I don’t like Highwoods; I don’t trust Highwoods; and I want Polsinelli Shughart to do the right thing and go to the West Edge.

I’m convinced that the new West Edge ownership team and the Polsinelli firm could come to terms that are financially acceptable to both sides.

Read Full Post »

A paper is fortunate, indeed, if it has one or more reporters who can assess the passing parade of stories, reach in and pluck out the occasional ones that have the potential to be something special.

Such a reporter is The Star’s Mark Morris, who has been a courts reporter the last 13 years and before that was a City Hall reporter and, earlier, an assistant metro editor.

From the outset, Morris has covered, with great perspective and clarity, the story of “Okies run amok” at the University of Kansas ticket office as several KU employees (now former employees) raped and pillaged the ticket cache under the un-watchful gaze of former KU athletic director Lew Perkins.

Last week, a different type of story piqued his interest. It was a follow-up to breaking news from March 29, when an Independence police officer shot and killed a career criminal, 41-year-old Lonnie Moore, after the criminal shot at the officer.

The story didn’t get a lot of attention when it happened: the goofball, driving a stolen car, began firing at the officer; the officer fired back and fatally wounded him.

Had the officer been wounded or killed, or if one or more bystanders had been injured or killed, it would have been a very big story. As it was, the TV and radio stations played it routinely, quickly consigning it to history.

Morris

But Morris, an award-winning investigative reporter, saw the glimmer of a good story. Just who was this Lonnie Moore? What was his background? What led up to the fatal encounter? And why would he choose to draw his personal and final line in the sand  “on a patch of Interstate 70 overlooking the Bass Pro Shop”?

So, on the front page of Saturday’s paper, Morris gave us the full, strange portrait of Lonnie Moore. It was the picture of an aimless, rootless, apparently poorly educated soul — the child of a single mother — who was convicted of his first felony when he was 18. It was the picture of a man who woke up most days with no goal in mind other than how he might create an illegal opportunity to come into possession of someone’s else’s property or money.

In the first few paragraphs, we learn that Moore was a longtime car thief, who usually surrendered quickly and quietly when the cops closed in on him.

In the fourth paragraph, the last one that appeared on the front page before the story “jumped” to an inside page, Morris set the hook: “The afternoon of March 29 was different.”

When you go to the jump, you find out that, within the last year, Moore had  upped his game from car thief to bank robber: He was the prime suspect in seven area bank robberies, the last one taking place in mid-March.

That revelation makes it clear why Moore drew that fateful line in the sand, and it also set the stage for the flashback that fleshes out “The Lonnie Moore Story.”

Like a jeweler slowly bringing out the finest stones, Morris unveils many rich nuggets about Moore that draw the reader closer to this strange fellow, whom you wouldn’t have wanted within arm’s length in real life.

Among the details:

— He was born in Chillicothe and moved to North Kansas City when his mother got a job with the Total Petroleum co.

— His mother died in 1995 at age 46. Moore had two brothers, neither of whom Morris could run down.

— At some point, Moore moved to the state of Washington and married a woman 28 years older than he.

— After being apprehended trying to break into a van in Milton, Wash., in 2003, Moore told police that he needed the van to visit his sick son in a Seattle hospital. But he didn’t know which hospital.

— Four months later, when he was stopped in a stolen car, he was carrying 15 “jiggler” keys, which had been shaved to fit in different car ignitions.

— In 2006, his wife filed for divorce and he moved to the town of Duluth, Minn., where he became “a regular police-blotter figure in the county’s weekly paper.”

— Wanted for probation violation, Moore left Minnesota last June, returned to the Kansas City area and apparently began robbing banks.

Oddly, and perhaps as a sign that he knew his walk on the wild side was nearing an end, he never showed a gun during the robberies and never disguised himself.

As Morris reported, “At least two sets of surveillance photos clearly show his face.”

So, on March 29, along I-70, Moore had nothing to hide and no realistic hope of remaining free.

It was the end of a rotten, pointless life that cost the taxpayers a considerable amount of money along the way but, fortunately, did no lasting damage to any innocent people, as far as we know.

And, thanks to Mark Morris, it was a life that made for interesting reading and reflection.

Read Full Post »

Two recent stories about electronic communication — one in The Star and the other in The New York Times — have brought into sharp relief, for me, the hazardous communications terrain that many of us navigate.

The Times’ story emphasized the seemingly irresistible urge to text or check one’s smartphone while engaged in personal conversations. The story, titled “Keep Your Thumbs Still When I’m Talking To You,” was illustrated by a young man crouching before, and shouting at, a woman busily engaged with her phone.

The story, written by Times’ media reporter David Carr, says society has come to this: If someone is “looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person.”

“Add one more achievement to the digital revolution,” Carr wrote. “It has made it fashionable to be rude.”

The Star story, on the other hand, by Edward M. Eveld, primarily addresses the fading of the old-fashioned phone call in favor of text messaging.

“Anymore,” Eveld wrote, “a phone call happens generally if it’s pre-arranged. That’s practically a rule in business circles but also holds sway among acquaintances.”

Three observations:

Texting and e-mailing are not character builders, the way old-fashioned phone calls and face-to-face conversations can be.

Example: I’ll never forget the days when I was a teenager and called girls up for first dates. I would start by going to a phone out of earshot of the rest of the family. Then, I would stare at the phone for a few minutes and think of what I might say and how I might lead up to The Big Question. I’d usually make one or two false reaches for the phone, pulling back my hand as it neared or touched the receiver. Then, finally, I’d pick it up and make the call. In most cases, my courage and preparation were rewarded.

More important, those experiences helped me learn how to make difficult calls.

These days, though, most teenagers don’t even have dates, much less make calls and ask each other out. They send a text, or place a call, saying something like, “Wanna hang out tonight?”

That way, you understand, it’s all very informal and virtually risk free. If the recipient texts back, “I’m busy,” you haven’t really been rejected. And you, the initiator, are covered because you really didn’t ask for a date.

As far as I know, our 21-year-old son has seldom “asked anyone out” in the traditional sense. It’s all text- or call-arranged get-togethers. The trouble with this type of arranging is that “plans” fall apart very quickly because more appealing offers come in. And no one has really made a firm commitment, so nobody should be able to claim hurt feelings.

Almost all electronic commitments, it’s my impression, are tentative.

Unlike our son, our 23-year-old daughter, an old-school sort, hates the assignation-by-text system. A couple of times she got together with a young man who called asked her if she wanted to “hang out.”  At least once, after they had met up, it turned out he wanted to take her to a fancy restaurant. She considered that “bait and switch” and didn’t appreciate it because she is the type of person who likes to have definite plans and likes to prepare for the event or occasion. If a young man wants a date, she’d prefer that he call and state his proposition.

My guess is that a lot of people who rely on the text message or e-mail as their primary means of communication shun personal confrontations or difficult phone calls. They probably avoid uncomfortable situations by texting or e-mailing their regrets or bad news that needs to be imparted. In other words, they duck out the back door.

Which leads me to this…

Many times, I have advised against attempting to resolve any significant or delicate issues by e-mail.

Significant issues — and the people embroiled in them — deserve to be dealt with either in person or, at the very least, over the phone.

As Eveld said in his KC Star story, “Not only is it often rude to try to dispatch a touchy issue by e-mail or text, it doesn’t allow for the free flow of information and discussion that is often necessary, and it strips the exchange of the nuances that attend personal conversation.”

Eveld quoted Dan Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute as saying that face-to-face conversations are best because body language, facial expressions and voice inflection play important roles in personal communications. Voice-to-voice conversations are the next best thing, Sening said, because without it, “there’s a whole layer of information that’s incredibly deep that just goes away.”

Example: Last year, I was involved in a volunteer initiative that became somewhat controversial. In e-mails with the person who had the power to give the green light or kill it, I sensed a lessening of commitment on that person’s part. I called the person to try to get a straight answer. On the phone, the person reiterated support for the initiative. A few days later, however, I got an e-mail that said something like, “Can we just forget this? It’s taking up too much time and is too tiring.”

I was stunned. Not because it wasn’t the right call — it probably was — but because it so clearly cried out for a personal call of resolution.

While I’m smart enough to know when a personal conversation is in order, I’m not without my electronic-based failings.

My personal demon is the computer.

Between blogging, e-mailing and checking various web sites, I am on the computer several hours a day. When my wife comes home from work (thank you, dearest, for giving me the opportunity to retire early) I’m usually sitting at the computer. When our daughter comes home from yoga or her volunteer job, I’m usually at the computer.

When I’m needed for something around the house, I usually say, “Just a second; I’ll be right there,” as I try to wrap up something or get to a breaking point.

I often feel guilty about it and know that I tend to isolate myself with the computer. Nevertheless, I  have a hard time tearing myself away. Just this week, my daughter and I were talking about our relationship, and she said, “A lot of the time, even when you’re there, you’re not really there. You know?”

I nodded.

These electronic tools that we have at our disposal are amazing implements, aren’t they? They are so helpful and have opened so many doors for so many people.

But it is immeasurably important that we use them responsibly and not allow them to push aside our manners and encroach on our availability to friends, family members and others. We are most alive when we are engaged with others, sitting across from them — talking, arguing, laughing, explaining — not exchanging electronic signals.

Read Full Post »

What’s a blogger to do? The family members (those in town) had commitments, and a few idle hours were at hand.

Ah, yes, the division-leading Cleveland Indians were playing the second-place Kansas City Royals. So, I grabbed my camera and headed to Kauffman Stadium.

It didn’t end well — Royals lost 7-3 in 10 innings — but it was a good game, played before an energetic and happy crowd of 12,214. Here are some of the scenes.

This attendant served up beers, sodas, hot dogs and a non-stop smile

Batters up

Royal red

Snow on the way?

Who needs a trench coat?

Out a ways

Cap ball in the bullpen

The loge

Lucky blogger and his brand-new, very temporary girlfriend, Cindy

The deserted midway

Good night

Read Full Post »

Unified Government Mayor Joe Reardon has sounded the warning: He’s ready to fight long and hard over the GSA’s plan to pull the EPA regional headquarters out of downtown KCK and relocate it in Lenexa.

But look out for the GSA: It’s shoring up its defenses.

Oh, the government won’t engage in verbal battle with Reardon, but it’s getting ready.

Listen to what the two sides are saying:

In an interview on Wednesday, Reardon said that:

— He would take his case directly to the White House.

— He might appeal the decision to the GSA inspector general, a referee of sorts.

— He expected the owner of the EPA building on Minnesota Avenue to file a formal protest (which would be filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office) over the GSA’s decision.

— The GSA should explain in more detail and more clearly why it had accepted the offer to house the EPA headquarters in a Lenexa building that opened in 2008 and was used for a while as Applebee’s headquarters.

Reardon

“We need transparency,” Reardon said. “To me, it (the decision) defies common sense and good public policy. We couldn’t figure it out.”

For its part, the GSA is playing it cautiously, as you would expect, but is preparing to make a formal presentation “in the near future” regarding the selection process and its decision. GSA spokesman Charlie Cook did not indicate when that presentation might take place.

“We are preparing a broader outreach,” Cook said. “We want to get out in public and explain (the selection process) to the extent we can.”

So, the stage is set: The adept, rising politician (some are touting Reardon, a Democrat, as a possible candidate for U.S. representative next year) versus the faceless, entrenched bureaucracy of the GSA.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, but this is going to be quite a challenge for Reardon and Wyandotte County’s Unified Government.

GSA officials wouldn’t have made the decision they did without mounting a stout defense along the way.

The GSA will stand, primarily, on formal and strict “federal acquisition regulations,” and it probably will contend that the owners of the Minnesota Avenue building were “not responsive” to the government’s formal, 73-page solicitation of proposals that went out last fall.

Consider this:

While officials with UrbanAmerica Advisors, New York, which owns the Minnesota Avenue building, contend their proposal was superior, they have so far refused to release it. And the government is prohibited by regulation from releasing any of the losing proposals.

It’s not our information to share,” Cook said, citing federal regulations.

As a result, the only information about UrbanAmerica’s proposal that has come forward has been provided by Urban America, and the facts that it has chosen to release could well be self-serving.

Earlier, Urban America officials said they proposed a 20-year lease at an average of $25 per square foot. That would put their proposal at about $5 million a year, or $100 million over 20 years, for the 200,000-square-foot building on Minnesota. (The Applebee’s building has 187,000 square feet.)

In a brief telephone interview on Thursday, however, Scott Hall, an UrbanAmerica senior vice president, declined to answer questions about his firm’s proposal or about the possibility of a formal protest. The deadline for filing such a protest apparently is late next week.

His reticence could be due, simply, to the delicacy of the situation. Or, it could be that UrbanAmerica’s formal proposal would be exposed as problematic.

For example, if Urban America submitted an offer for a flat 20 years, the GSA would have considered it “not responsive.” In its solicitation, the GSA specified that it wanted proposals for “10 years firm,” with options to renew for up to 10 more years.

It is undisputed that Lexington LAC Lenexa LP, owner of the Applebee’s building at 112th and Renner Road, complied with the request for “10 years firm.” According to numbers that Cook released, GSA would pay about $52 million for a 10-year lease of the Lenexa building and about $120 million over 20 years.

Further clouding the Urban America bid, the $25-per-square-foot figure might not include everything. Cook, of the GSA, drew a distinction between a square-foot proposal that was “fully serviced” and one that was only “partially serviced.” In other words, the rate could be higher than $25 a foot if it did not include costs such as utilities and building maintenance.

Just as it is unclear if the length of UrbanAmerican’s proposed contract complied with the solicitation terms, it is equally unclear if Urban America’s self-proclaimed bid of $25 a square foot was fully or partially serviced. If it was only partially serviced, the additional expenses could have pushed the lease rates above that of Lexington LAC.

And Cook  is very firm about the bottom line: The Lexington LAC proposal, he said, “was the highest technically rated and the lowest-priced offer we received.”

There’s more:

— The solicitation specified that the GSA wanted a building that met the Silver, Gold or Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard for design and construction, as well as the Gold or Platinum LEED standard for maintenance and operation.

The Applebee’s building qualifies on both points. The current EPA building doesn’t, and it’s unclear, according to Kansas City Star real estate writer Kevin Collison, “whether the building itself could be upgraded to meet the minimum Silver LEED requirement.”

— In the summer of 2008, about a year before the initial 10-year lease of the Minnesota Avenue building was about to expire, the GSA went to the building owners — at that time a different company — and solicited a proposal for what Cook called “a succeeding lease” in the KCK building.

When the offer came back in 2009, however, the GSA determined that “the rates were too high and the terms unreasonable,” Cook said. (By then, UrbanAmerica had bought the building.) The GSA then canceled that solicitation and informed Congress that it intended to expand the search area and prepare a new solicitation in order to increase competition and drive down the rates.

In the meantime, GSA negotiated an extension of the old lease with UrbanAmerica.

(Side note: You might be wondering, as I was, why UrbanAmerica would buy the building before a new lease was secured. “Stupid” was the assessment of one former GSA official I talked to.)

The new solicitation went out last October, and at least two proposals — those of UrbanAmerica and Lexington LAC — came back a month later.

A GSA and EPA selection panel’s evaluation of those proposals went beyond price, Cook said, to include “sustainability, building and systems design, development team experience, and development team past performance.”

On April 4, GSA and Lexington LAC officials signed a lease contract, which the GSA announced the same day.

All this isn’t giving Reardon pause.

If he can stir up enough ire and make the bureaucrats sufficiently uncomfortable, he could win the fight. He’s relying largely on two well-placed body blows to significantly weaken the GSA’s technically tilted defense.

First, he stresses the importance of the EPA within the context of an urban area that is striving for respectability.

Downtown KCK has seen vast improvements in recent years, he said, including the emergence of small businesses on Fifth Street and the 2010 opening of a $15.5 million Children’s Campus of Kansas City, where several social service groups focus on at-risk children and their families.

In addition, the Unified Government is using the proceeds of a $10 million federal grant to develop an express bus route linking downtown with The Legends/Village West complex at 110th Street and State Avenue. The downtown transit station would be adjacent to the EPA, Reardon said.

All in all, Reardon said, the EPA regional headquarters, with its 610 employees, is a linchpin to continued downtown development.

“This is exactly the wrong time for them (the EPA) to leave,” he said.

His second punch, which is a natural follow-up to the first, highlights a 1978 executive order from President Jimmy Carter. It says in part:

“Federal facilities and federal use of space in urban areas shall serve to strengthen the nation’s cities and to make them attractive places to live and work…Except where such selection is otherwise prohibited, the process for meeting federal space needs in urban areas shall give first consideration to a centralized community business area and adjacent areas of similar character…”

Yes, the GSA gave “first consideration” to downtown KCK. But did it give it enough consideration? That is a key question.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »