I trust that most of you have read or heard about the newly unveiled plan of Cerner Co. executives to redevelop the Bannister Mall site as an office park, with 12,000 to 15,000 employees.
The first two phases of the “Three Trails Redevelopment Project” would cost about $200 million and cover 236 acres — all but 15 of which have been acquired by a company established by Cerner Chairman Neal Patterson and Vice Chairman Cliff Illig.
It’s great news for Kansas City, and for southeast Kansas City in particular.
The road to hope for the Bannister Mall site has been circuitous and neck snapping, as most of us know. And today I heard a story that might hold the key to the crumbling of the earlier redevelopment plan that Patterson and Illig abandoned in 2009.
Indeed, the story I heard could explain a sequence of events that led to the pivotal, 2009 decision by Patterson and Illig to take their huge Cerner office complex and Sporting Park soccer stadium to western Wyandotte County.
This is a single-source story, but it’s from a knowledgeable businessman with a wide network of connections. He cannot be identified because…well, he doesn’t want to be. But he says of this story: “You can put it in the bank.”
So here it is:
The Cerner-Sporting Park proposal came along, in the mid-2000s. In 2007, Mark Funkhouser was elected mayor. Slowly and surely, you will recall, his wife, Gloria Squitiro, installed herself as his de-facto chief of staff, working as a “volunteer” and maintaining a desk just outside her husband’s 29th-floor office.
Squitiro’s overbearing and over-controlling manner prevented the office from working effectively, and it got worse after one African-American employee, Ruth Bates, sued the city for discrimination because Squitiro called her “Mammy.” The city ultimately settled the suit for about $500,000, but before that, Squitiro was forced to move out of City Hall.
But Funkhouser — ever the loyal husband — decided she was so important to the functioning of the office that he (and she) began holding important city meetings at their home on 57th, between Main and Wornall.
Coincidental to the brouhaha on the 29th floor, the Patterson-Illig plan was bogging down.
As development reporter Kevin Collison recounts it in today’s Star, “Kansas City and Missouri offered a $273 million incentive package, but the developer was unable to attract enough retailers to generate the tax revenue to finance the plan.”
So, it started crumbling. But it wasn’t altogether dead. Sometime in 2009, after Squitiro had been banished from City Hall, a last-ditch meeting took place between city and Cerner officials. It took place on 57th Street, at the mayor’s home. The subject at hand, apparently, was whether the city was willing to boost the proposed subsidy.
Attending the meeting, my source said, were Illig and three other Cerner representatives and Funkhouser, Squitiro and a city development official.
During the meeting, Squitiro — remember, she was not a city employee in any way, shape or form — did a lot of the talking. So much so that, along with the setting, it gave Illig and the other Cerner representatives the heebie jeebies.
Soon afterwards, as Collison put it in his story, “the deal jumped the border.”
So how do you feel about that?
At the time, as I recall, Squitiro’s meddling was viewed mainly as an irritating sideshow.
But what if Gloria, in her own “I’m the queen” way, effectively altered the landscape of southeastern Kansas City and western Wyandotte County?
Is that a good thing? I think most Jackson County residents would say, “Hell, no!” while most Wyandotte County residents would say, “Why, thank you, Gloria!”
Fortunately, it looks like southeast Kansas City is going to be made whole, so to speak, and the ghosts of Bannister Mall will be laid to rest.
But the ghost of Gloria still hangs in the air.