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Posts Tagged ‘The Plaza’

I love to see Kansas City area residents rise up en masse against flim-flammy plans to encroach on cornerstones of Kansas City history.

And so it was with great satisfaction that I watched the tidal wave of opposition swell all day Friday against the Highwoods Properties-Polsinelli Shughart office tower-and-money grab that would destroy the integrity of perhaps the Plaza’s most important intersection, 47th and Broadway.

The proposal to build an eight-story, $57 million office building for the Polsinelli Shughart law firm has unleashed such a fusillade that the plan probably is D.O.A. However, where the power of money is involved, you never know, so it’s probably going to take a Phil Spector-like “wall of sound” to keep this plan from going forward.  

Having covered City Hall between 1985 and 1995, I can tell you that the one sure thing that councils respond to is a roomful of people. If big crowds  show up in opposition to the proposal, the council almost certainly will kill the plan, if it gets that far.  

Here’s another thing I know about this mushroom cloud: The hysteria would not have reached such proportions (hundreds of calls, e-mails and Web comments to The Kansas City Star) and the outrage would have been more clearly focused if The Star, in its Friday morning report, had laid out the government and regulatory approvals that are needed to proceed with the project.

The project will be reviewed first, on Oct. 5, by the City Plan Commission, an appointed group, which makes recommendations to the City Council. The City Council would have the final say, regardless of what the Plan Commission did. 

Unbelievably, Collison’s story didn’t have one mention of the regulatory process or the approvals that the project requires to move ahead. Collison has been with The Star for at least a decade and is an excellent development reporter. I don’t know what happened in this case; it was just a terrible omission. When I wrote to Collison on Friday, asking about the regulatory process, he wrote back, saying, “I’ve been up to my eyeballs with the outrage over this today.”

At least two editors — probably three or four, including a managing editor — read the story, and someone should have said, “Hey, this story doesn’t say if City Council approval is needed.” That’s all it would have taken to put the situation in proper perspective and help readers channel their anger. 

As it was, the story made it look like the building was a done deal. The story had Highwoods’ and the law firm’s  chief executives exchanging oratorical high fives. I could almost smell the smoke from the victory cigar in the statement of W. Russell Welsh, Polsinelli’s chief executive, who said, “We could not be more pleased to have our own building in the center of the Plaza, where our firm began nearly 40 years ago.”  

On Saturday, Collison and The Star moved to undo the damage from Friday’s confusing story. The first paragraph of today’s story, the lead story in the paper, said: “Plans for an office development in the Country Club Plaza that includes demolishing a vintage building have ignited outrage among Plaza devotees — and they will have their day at City Hall.”

Appropriately, the story was as much a correction as it was a report of the outrage.

To me, this episode reflects a couple of things: First, we love our Plaza, with its graceful, Spanish architecture and distinctive feel, and, second, The Star has to be very, very careful — and thorough — in reporting about proposed changes to venerable Kansas City institutions like the Plaza.

The reporting and editing lapse that occurred in Collison’s Friday story is, unfortunately, happening more and more. That is almost inevitable with a diminished staff, and it demonstrates once again how The Star’s status as the area’s most powerful and authoritative news-gathering operation has slipped.

It’s still the biggest and the best, but not as big or good as it used to be.

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