Live in a city long enough and it can become a foreign place. The ceaseless march of progress yields a cityscape that is genuinely fluid, permeable, and transient, subject to the whims of planners, businesses, and governments. One of the great pleasures of the urban experience is to monitor how a city grows, evolves, and changes over time. With this in mind, it’s an intriguing exercise to review projects that never came to fruition, to imagine what could have been had circumstances been different. This exhibit looks at a series of Kansas City’s failed plans and defunct developments, that, had they happened, would have generated a metropolis very different from the one in which we currently find ourselves.
As part of planning for the construction of the Liberty Memorial, a design competition was held in order to address public concern over the selection of a Memorial architect. The Liberty Memorial Association hired a consultant to assist with the process in March of 1920, and sixty-three local architects were asked to provide input on who should be invited to compete. Only fifteen responded, and a list of invitees was generated and distributed. Participants were instructed as follows:
The object of this competition is to secure to Kansas City a memorial worthy to stand for the record made by her sons in the World War, and to provide the keynote to the ultimate development of the whole site, where it is earnestly hoped there may one day be an art, literary, and music center, the architecture of which shall furnish an adequate setting for the memorial contemplated herein.
A jury of five national architectural experts was selected, and the competition began February 1, 1921. Submissions were due June 15, with judging and announcements made July 1. Fifteen firms submitted proposals, one each from San Francisco, New York, and Philadelphia, with the remainder from Kansas City. Local architect H. Van Buren Magonigle was selected as the winning designer, but review of other submissions demonstrate the contrasting opportunities for what might have been constructed.
By the early 1970s, Kansas City was on a development roll. Major civic projects long-planned were either completed or underway, and the local arts community and UMKC leapt onto this bandwagon with the announcement in the fall of 1973 of a gift in the form of a challenge grant from local banker R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. to build a new performing arts center, providing space for the Theater Department and the Conservatory of Music. Kemper’s $5 million pledge was contingent on the appropriation of $6.4 million from the Missouri State Legislature, with the remainder to be raised from private donors by the University.
The need for the center was great: the Conservatory was operating of out five buildings for classroom, office, and performance space, some of which were more than five miles apart, three of which had been recommended for demolition in 1972. The Theater Department utilized the University Playhouse for performances, a temporary military theater building that had been reconstructed on the campus in 1947.
The proposed Enid Jackson Kemper Center for the Performing Arts (named after R. Crosby’s mother) would be built just east of what is now Theis Park, on land currently occupied by the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden. While the State of Missouri provided the required funding, private donations lagged. The situation was exacerbated by inflation during the period, such that when a revised construction estimate was announced in late 1975, the project was nearly $3 million short. In January of 1976 Kemper withdrew his initial pledge, stating that he didn’t see “another angel” coming forth to fund the shortfall. Eventually campus leaders utilized the money that had been raised from the state and from the public to pay for the construction of the current James C. Olson Performing Arts Center, which opened in 1979.
Below: The well-known Kansas City firm of Wight and Wight secured seventh place, with a complex design that echoed the firm’s earlier and subsequent work in buildings such as the First National Bank (1906), the Kansas City Life Insurance building (1923), and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (1933).
As a long-time trustee and supporter UMKC, Miller Nichols utilized his real estate expertise to purchase properties surrounding Volker campus. One area of focus in the 1970s was the Trolley Barn Neighborhood, located south of 47th, east of Rockhill, north of Volker (now MLK, Jr. Boulevard), and west of Troost.
The name was drawn from the presence of the storage barn for the Kansas City trolley system at 48th and Troost. The Trolley Barn and numerous homes in the area were severely damaged in the Brush Creek flood of 1977. Rental properties owned by UMKC were only minimally rehabilitated, as ultimate plans were to demolish the homes and expand the campus northward into the area.
Those plans were formalized in the mid-1980s, with a $2 million appropriation from the state of Missouri to launch a feasibility study for an office/research park. 53 acres were to be developed on the 68-acre site with the goal of attracting firms in such high-tech fields as “computer/telecommunication science, basic life sciences, agribusiness, and biotechnology”, generating 4,000-6,000 jobs. As “University Park” evolved, plans included the construction of 17 buildings, three to 12 stories high, containing nearly 3 million square feet of space to accommodate offices, research spaces, and retail services. Enclosed on-site parking facilities would serve more than 6,000 cars.
The first tenant signed in October of 1990 – Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest health maintenance organization. The company planned to occupy a four-story building on the northeast corner of 48th and Rockhill, with above-ground parking. The nearby Rockhill Neighborhood Association raised objections to this plan, noting the University had guaranteed that all parking would be underground. The controversy spooked Kaiser Permanente, which pulled out of the project. UMKC struggled to secure additional partners and the project was ultimately abandoned. By the mid-1990s the Kauffman Foundation expressed interest in purchasing the land for its headquarters, and the former Trolley Barn neighborhood became home to the Foundation headquarters and the Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center.
As downtown Kansas City became more congested with traffic and people in the post-World War II era, plans were introduced in 1956 for a Civic Center that would alleviate some of these problems. Centered on the area surrounding City Hall and the Jackson County Courthouse, the 20-year plan was grandiose – burying Oak Street underground from 11th to 14th and 12th Street from McGee to Cherry to make room for underground and surface parking; a series of office buildings south of the Courthouse; and a series of elevated walkways connecting the Civic Center to other parts of downtown.
As other buildings were constructed that were out of the control of the city –the downtown Public Library (1960), the Federal Building (1965), and the Missouri State Office Building (1968) – ideas about the Civic Center evolved. In 1966 the San Francisco firm of Lawrence Halprin and Associates released a new master plan that took the new structures into consideration. “The major purpose of the new Civic Center plans has been to unify and organize the various buildings and open spaces into a cohesive whole. This unity has been considered as a functional problem and we have emphasized use and ease of circulation as well as aesthetics and visual delight.”
The firm introduced three interconnected plazas: in front of City Hall, between KC Police headquarters and the Courthouse, and a connection to an existing plaza in front of the Federal Building. Elevated walkways between the plazas would remove pedestrians from the concerns of traffic, and nooks and plantings were strategically placed throughout the Center.
Initial reaction to the plans was favorable, though there was considerable debate about a lack of solutions to parking problems. In the summer of 1966, federal officials surprised the city with plans for a sunken patio near the Federal Building, developed independently of the Halprin plan. This design, coupled with the inability of the Civic Center planners to adequately address parking, ultimately signaled the end of the plan altogether.
Another redevelopment plan that encompassed all of downtown Kansas City was introduced in 1957 by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Downtown Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, the City Plan Commission of Kansas City, and local members of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Officially titled “Kansas City – 1980”, truncated to “KC/80”, the plan was introduced as the first leg of the downtown loop of highways was completed. It focused on “the Civic Center and the Central Retail Core (retail, financial, commercial, and hotel area) and their relation to each other as well as their function within the Central Business District”, i.e., the area that ultimately would be encircled by the highways.
Like its 1956 counterpart, the KC/80 plan placed a heavy emphasis initially on the Civic Center. In this instance, greater emphasis was placed on land south of the Jackson County Courthouse and potential amenities for that space. These included a new Kansas City Museum, a Planetarium-Aquarium, a Children’s Museum south of the Public Library connected by a ramp, a Hall of Fame – “Every great city needs a center to keep alive the memory of its leaders for the appreciation of future generations”, an information and Hospitality Center, and a Legal Office Center.
In addition, the plan emphasized enhancement of the shopping experience downtown. One idea was to turn heavily commercial Petticoat Lane – 11th Street from Main to Grand – into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare. Of course, what the planners didn’t take into consideration was the rise and ultimate dominance of the enclosed suburban shopping mall – Kansas City’s first two malls opened in 1956 and 1958, one year prior and one year after the KC/80 plan was introduced. Moreover, the plan was simply too grand. It was impossible for the well-intentioned planners, responding reasonably to mid-century growth trends, to have the foresight to incorporate the monumental changes that would occur by 1980.
In addition to the grandiose plans for downtown proffered by local government officials, leaders in the business community also laid stake to its development. As president of Durwood Theaters and later AMC Entertainment, Stan Durwood made his mark in the industry with the introduction of the multi-plex theater. He also had a longtime passion for downtown Kansas City and its success. In 1967 a corporation spearheaded by Durwood introduced a plan called the Crosstown Center that involved redevelopment of a large swath of the heart of downtown – 12th Street south to the “Crosstown Freeway” (now known as I-670), Baltimore west to Oak. The development was proposed to take place in four stages: first, a multi-story department store with 600,000 to 1 million square feet of retail space; second, and entertainment center containing theaters, restaurants, and specialty shops; third, two multi-story office buildings; fourth, general commercial and business service facilities. The entire plan was slated to be completed by 1976.
A major challenge to a plan as ambitious as this was securing all of the land. It was hampered by landowner resistance to Missouri’s urban redevelopment laws, which favored developers. Lawsuits against the developers slowed for years progress on the project. By 1978 Durwood, ignoring the phased nature of the original proposal, introduced a concept for a new enclosed shopping center encompassing a substantial subsection of the original Crosstown Center proposal. The downgraded project, though, was hampered with similar land acquisition problems, and ultimately Durwood focused his efforts on a project he called The Galleria, an enclosed shopping center encompassing the block bounded by 11th Street, Main, 12th Street, and Walnut. It echoed the earlier plans – stores, multi-plex theaters, restaurants – and, ambitiously, enclosed Petticoat Lane from Walnut to Main. By 1982 the City Plan Commission voted to formally declare the original Crosstown Center plan abandoned, yet Durwood persisted with the Galleria.
Unfortunately, one of the corporate partners in the project suffered serious financial difficulties and had to withdraw. City leaders were hesitant to allow such a prominent block of downtown real estate to remain idle, so the land was purchased by the Kansas City Redevelopment Authority in 1983 and subsequently purchased by AT&T for the construction of the AT&T Town Pavilion building. Durwood’s dream of a revitalized downtown entertainment district, however, endured – at the time of his death in 1999, he was one of the primary figures involved in the creation of what is now the Power and Light District.
By the mid-1980s, major development in the Central Business District had stalled. Pockets of activity were scattered across the area – Quality Hill, AT&T Town Pavilion – but the massive development plans of the previous few decades had not come to fruition.
Planners had also expanded their vision to incorporate areas south of the loop, in between downtown and Crown Center. They recognized the value in utilizing this area that would become known as the Crossroads as a link to downtown and the River Market areas, releasing a plan in 1986 that built on the legacy of Kansas City’s park and boulevard system. The Grand/Main Corridor Plan called for “a visually pleasing and cohesive urban corridor from Crown Center to the Riverfront”. The transformation would be accomplished in part with new landscaping along each street and installation of several fountains.
More significant features of the plan included a traffic circle around a larger fountain at the intersection of 18th and Walnut, a one-acre park at 14th Street between Grand and Main, and a multi-level parking structure at 15th Street that would span I-670 between Grand and Main.
The plan additionally called for an east-west traffic way north of Union Station that would connect I-35 with what is now 71 Highway; an extension of Southwest Boulevard northeast into the proposed traffic circle at Walnut; and widening Grand Avenue within the downtown loop.
Unfortunately, city financing for the project was never identified, and the plan was scaled back to focus on beautification and improvements in pedestrian and motor vehicle flow. In 1990, Kansas City Parks and Recreation Commissioners approved a plan to add Grand Avenue from the River Market to Crown Center to the city’s boulevard system, increasing the bureaucratic complexity of implementing the Grand/Main Corridor plan as originally proposed and greatly decreasing the chances of it happening. The street was officially renamed Grand Boulevard in 1992.
The Ten-Year Plan, a massive bond program passed by voters in 1931, funded projects such as the Kansas City City Hall, Jackson County Courthouse, and Municipal Auditorium. It also included provisions for a new 30,000 seat stadium that would provide “new amusement and cultural events, athletic exhibits, concerts, and opera”. Kansas City had a professional baseball stadium built in 1923 at 22nd and Brooklyn, home of the Kansas City Blues, but it was deemed insufficient for the needs of the growing city.
But a new stadium was postponed owing to the prioritization of other Ten Year Plan projects. It was not until the mid-1940s that serious consideration was given to what was dubbed the Municipal Stadium. In 1945 the City Plan Commission issued a report that detailed their analysis of twenty-four different proposed sites for the stadium across the city, including four in the downtown area, three near Swope Park, and five in Midtown. The Commission’s final recommendations centered on two sites in close proximity – the primary at 47th and the Paseo, with a secondary choice at 45th and Cleveland. The Paseo location was formerly occupied by Electric Park, a popular amusement park in the early part of the 20th century that closed after a fire in 1925. It was recommended this could be a place “for a stadium or recreational purposes”, and, if the latter was built, the Cleveland location could serve as the stadium site.
Hearings were held on the recommendations, and strong preferences for a downtown stadium were repeatedly expressed, despite cost obstacles. As a result, the city procrastinated on making a decision, ultimately dropping the 45th and Cleveland site in 1948; the 47th and Paseo area had earlier been turned over to private developers for an apartment complex called the Village Green.
The plan was abandoned because officials believed the final site selection should be deferred until closer to the actual construction of the stadium, estimated to take seven to ten years. Subsequently, the 1923 stadium was officially renamed Municipal Stadium in December of 1954 in advance of the arrival of the Kansas City Athletics baseball team the following spring.
The calls for a downtown sports stadium continued to reverberate into the 1960s. By mid-decade, plans had been developed for a “Jackson County Complex” anchored by a circular stadium proposed for the site of today’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and modeled after the recently-opened Houston Astrodome. The single stadium would provide space for the city’s professional baseball and football teams as well as other sports when available. The plan included a field house for the support requirements of all teams using the space.
By this time, however, the stadium had become too expensive to be an endeavor solely spearheaded by the city. An extremely convoluted process was developed for oversight of the project involving existing and new Jackson County governmental agencies and, importantly, County funding. As a result, county-wide support was now required for the project, making a downtown site less appealing, as it would be viewed as primarily benefiting downtown interests and inaccessible to many County residents.
After more review of potential sites, the frontrunner was identified, located on Leeds Road near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 435. The land was owned by a company called Centropolis Crusher, whose board of directors had been chaired by city boss Tom Pendergast in 1938. When compared with the downtown proposal, the Leeds site was preferable for a number of reasons: downtown was too expensive; traffic issues downtown were basically insurmountable; and a large number of businesses would have to relocate to make room for the downtown stadium, and most indicated they would move to Kansas. In addition, analysis of the exorbitant energy costs required to maintain an environment in an enclosed stadium led to the introduction of two separate stadia – one for football and one for baseball – and there was not room for both at the downtown site.
On January 5, 1967, a formal recommendation for the Leeds site was made and accepted by the appropriate planning officials.
The anticipated increase in highway traffic with the opening of Kansas City International Airport in 1972 had transit planners anxious. A 1969 report stated that “the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority recognized the urgent need to provide ground transportation to and from KCI not only for airline passengers, sightseers and visitors, but also for the 10,000 men and women who will staff the numerous operations required by an international air center. It hopes to cure the paralysis of transportation between airports and downtown areas by providing transportation to KCI through the use of a rapid transit system.”
What was unique about their proposal was the introduction of a transitway, a highway dedicated solely to the public transport of people from downtown to the airport. The transitway would be a combination of surface highway in less populated spaces and an elevated thoroughfare through denser areas. Future plans called for the implementation of a monorail system to supplement passenger buses using the surface road.
In 1968, engineering concept designs introduced a terminal at 12th and Broadway, with parking in the nearby Municipal Garage, and the transitway route traveling across downtown, along the Hannibal Bridge, through North Kansas City and Kansas City, North “to the front gate of KCI”. Subsequent revisions to those plans – and the cost estimates associated with them – resulted in scrapping the idea of using the century-old Hannibal Bridge and building a new river crossing and taking passengers actually into the airport facility.
These and other changes coupled with unanticipated rates of inflation nearly tripled the cost of the proposal. When discussing transit priorities, KC Mayor Ilus Davis noted that this project should become a federal demonstration project since the city did not have the $30 million to pay for it. Unfortunately, the US Department of Transportation never responded, and the project failed to move beyond planning stages.
Kansas City Star
Kansas City Times
Lawrence Halprin & Associates. Master Plan for the Civic Center, Kansas City, Missouri, April 1966. Box 3, Folder 22, George Ehrlich Papers, 1946-2002 (K0067), State Historical Society of Missouri – Kansas City Research Center.
Newspaper Clippings, “Galleria”. Box 3, Folder 8, George Ehrlich Papers, 1946-2002 (K0067), State Historical Society of Missouri – Kansas City Research Center.
Jackson County Complex
Black & Veatch. Jackson County Complex: Sports, Convention, Entertainment, Recreation; Preliminary Design Report. Kansas City: 1966.
Lewis, Robert W. The Harry S. Truman Sports Complex: Rocky Road to the Big Leagues. Kansas City: Robert Lewis, 1977.
Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff. Concept of a Rapid Transit System Serving KCI. Mar, 1968.
Howard, Needles, Tammen, & Bergendoff. KCI Rapid Transitway: Engineering Design Report. 1969.
Civic Improvement Committee. A 10-Year Plan for Public Improvement in Kansas City. Kansas City, 1930.
Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Where These Rocky Bluffs Meet: Including the Story of the Ten-Year Plan. Kansas City: Smith-Grieves Company, 1938.
City Plan Commission, Kansas City, Missouri. Municipal Stadium, 1945.
Performing Arts Center
Levine, Patricia. “Issues Clout Center’s Future”, University News, vol. 13, no. 11, Jan 22, 1976
“Progress Report on the Performing Arts Center”, Tempo, vol. 6, no. 2, Spring, 1975
PAC Scrapbook, n.d.
Continental-Kroh Development Group. Design Report, University of Missouri – Kansas City, North Campus Development, Jun, 1985
Drouin, Jeremy. “In the Path of Progress: KCQ Examines the Lost Trolley Barn Neighborhood”, Aug 19, 2022
University Archives Vertical Files
University of Missouri – Kansas City, University Park at Kansas City, n.d.
Stadium-sized thanks to the following individuals:
Jeremy Drouin, Manager, Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library – for assistance with images.
Scott Gipson, Digital Archives Assistant, Digital Projects, UMKC Libraries – for help in scanning images.
Whitney Heinzman, Coordinator, Kansas City Research Center, State Historical Society of Missouri – for providing extended access to the papers of George Ehrlich.
Sean McCue, User Interface and Graphic Designer, UMKC Libraries – for exhibit design expertise and finesse, and for crafting augmented reality components throughout the exhibit.