Below is a letter sent on behalf of Downtown Neighborhood Association with respect to the hotel project, Hilton Home2 Suites, development slated for 20th and Main Streets in the Crossroads.  The letter was sent to Jason Swords and Mark Moberly at Sunflower Development Group as well as various stakeholders within the Kansas City city government.  DNA is excited by the development, but do have concerns that have been addressed in this letter.  Click here to download a full version of the letter.


RE: Hilton Home2 Suites – 20th & Main Streets

Dear Gentlemen:

On behalf of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, thank you again for meeting and sharing with us your hotel project slated for the southeast corner of 20th and Main Streets. We are excited by the potential of this development to bring new life and activity to a key gateway of downtown’s resurgent Crossroads neighborhood. With the success of your project and the neighborhood fully in mind, we have assembled the following suggestions based on our meeting.

This is an exciting time for downtown Kansas City. Construction is well underway on the Main Street streetcar, a $100 million investment designed to spur walkable, transit-oriented development along its route. The City will soon begin work on the first phase of the 20th Street streetscape project, giving almost half of the 100-foot right-of-way back to pedestrians through a road diet and linear park improvements. Thus, there may be no site better positioned to take advantage of the ongoing transformation of the Crossroads and Greater Downtown than the corner of 20th and Main Streets. The heart of a dense urban neighborhood, surrounded by activity and amenities, connected by catalytic transit and pedestrian improvements, new development at this corner is poised to join other ongoing projects heralding a new era for downtown Kansas City.

We are excited by your development, but concerned that the proposed design unnecessarily undermines the hard-won progress and aforementioned significant City investments in the neighborhood. We understand the design is preliminary and, with that in mind, offer the following specific suggestions for simple improvements to enhance not only your project, but the neighborhood as a whole.

The central concerns of this design are the configuration of the entrance and ground floor parking. At the intersection of two major public investments to enhance the pedestrian experience and facilitate Downtown Kansas City’s evolution to a more walkable, transit-oriented district, the entire ground floor of the proposed development is devoted to parking.

The concept plan includes four locations for automobiles to enter the building, but no entrances for people. Access for hotel guests is first through an automobile driveway, through the garage, and then to an elevator vestibule located in the back of the ground-floor garage. Simply stated, this building has no front door. This assumes no one will ever walk to or from the hotel. That assumption is without merit given the dozens of restaurants, galleries, and retail businesses February 4, 2015 Page 2 within just a few blocks, and the proximity of the streetcar making for effortless travel to the River Market, Power and Light District, Union Station, or Crown Center.

To better understand why this design is problematic for this location in particular, please consider the City’s adopted area plan and draft transit-oriented development policy. 

Greater Downtown Area Plan

"Creating a walkable downtown" is one of the Greater Downtown Area Plan's (“GDAP”) five primary goals. The document is not ambiguous in it vision for downtown street frontage. Of particular relevance to this proposal are the following recommendations:

  • Expand pedestrian zone designation and pedestrian level of service standards downtown (which includes provisions for entrances on the street, active ground floor uses and transparency requirements).
  • Utilize the pedestrian scale to guide design decisions.
  • Ensure changes in the urban fabric reflect and strengthen the existing urban character of downtown neighborhoods.
  • Create an inviting and well-maintained public realm that generates activity. An active public realm will be safer to all users.
  • Curb cuts for parking lots should be kept to a minimum.
  • Parking should be located at the rear of the property behind buildings, or in a mixed-use garage. Where this is not feasible, parking beside the building may be appropriate but parking should comprise a small percentage of the street frontage on the block. Where feasible, parking is encouraged to be in below grade structures (ensuring safety through both active and passive security measures).
  • When located along a street frontage, and where feasible, developments are encouraged to include first floor pedestrian active uses such as retail and services.
  • In mixed-use areas buildings should maintain and reinforce street level pedestrian activity regardless of size or use. This might include a design that:
    • Provides street-level, pedestrian-oriented uses.
    • Maintains a continuous, transparent, highly permeable and active street wall.
    • No more than 25% of any primary street frontage should be occupied by uses with no need for pedestrian traffic. Drive-through uses are discouraged.
  • Buildings should have a primary entrance facing and directly accessible from the public street, rather than oriented towards side or rear parking areas.
  • Buildings are encouraged to have multiple entrances that open out to the public realm of the street.
  • Large blank walls along streets should be avoided whenever possible. Where blank walls are unavoidable they should receive design treatment to increase pedestrian comfort and interest.
  • Provide ‘transparency’ or openness to create a visual connection at the street level. The street level of commercial/mixed use structures should have a dominant transparent quality.

Draft Transit-Oriented Development Policy

The City has taken steps to facilitate better transit-oriented development (“TOD”) along the streetcar route, including increasing the permitted density and removing minimum parking requirements, among other measures. Recognizing that proper design and function of new development are essential to achieving the full potential of the streetcar and other investments, the City is developing a transit-oriented development policy. The language in this document is useful in framing the challenges posed by the proposed development. “Parking in TOD areas limits capacity for more active and economically beneficial uses. Parking can also detract from the experience of TOD areas and the quality of the pedestrian environment. At the same time, accommodating program needs of new development, and improving access to TOD destinations is important to their success.” The following recommendations from the City’s TOD policy specifically address the impact of parking on the success of walkable, transit-oriented areas.

  • Street-Building Interface: Support a quality pedestrian environment by focusing active uses and amenities at street level, orienting buildings toward the street, and encouraging transparency, variety, visibility, and interactivity for ground level uses fronting the sidewalk.
  • Managing Curb Cuts: Manage curb cuts in TOD areas to minimize the areas of potential conflict between automobiles, pedestrians, and cyclists, including elimination of unnecessary drives, narrowing of driveway widths, and creating access on side streets with less bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
  • Integration of Parking Structures: Design new parking structures so that they are not significantly visible at street level. Encourage underground parking or structures wrapped with other uses, including active ground floor uses. Discourage “parking podiums” where new development is placed above structured parking, limiting activity and “eyes on the street.”

Pedestrian Overlay

GDAP and the draft TOD Policy both recommend adoption and application of the City’s Pedestrian Overlay for downtown in general, but particularly along transit corridors. While not zoning requirements yet, the provisions of the Pedestrian Overlay do indicate the City’s policy and design priorities for areas like the Crossroads:

  • At least 60% of the street-facing building facade between 4 feet and 10 feet above the sidewalk must be comprised of windows that allow views of indoor commercial space or product display areas. On corner lots, this 60% transparency requirement applies only along one street. The minimum transparency standard abutting secondary streets is 40%. 
  • Buildings must have a working public entrance door facing the street. Entrances at building corners may be used to satisfy this requirement.
  • Any off-street parking that is provided must be located behind the building or within or under the building.
  • Driveways and vehicle access, when provided, must come from an alley or side street if either is present.
  • Commercial and other nonresidential uses allowed in the subject zoning districts must occupy at least 800 square feet or 50% of the building's ground floor area, whichever is greater.

Simple Solutions

When we met in December, you explained that operational requirements of the hotel limited flexibility in the design. Parking was a particular concern. The current design devotes 100% of the ground floor to parking, in addition to the remainder of the site. We understood your concern that any attempt to bring more active uses to the ground level would reduce parking capacity. Below are four simple options that address and maintain the project requirements while improving the hotel’s interaction with the surrounding neighborhood. The options can be implemented individually or collectively to meet the hotel's parking needs while creating a more active and pedestrian-friendly interface between the building and the street, taking full advantage of the City’s significant nearby investments.

  1. Move the entrance vestibule to the corner 
    The proposed design orients parking spaces in a way that causes the most prominent location of this building—the corner of Main and 20th Streets—to be empty and uninviting. This condition is remedied by simply relocating the entrance vestibule from the interior of the parking garage to the street. This realizes two benefits. First, it provides a street entrance to the building while maintaining access from the garage. Second, it allows new parking spaces to be located in the original location of the entrance vestibule. This adjustment enhances the quality of the design while increasing the number of available parking spaces by two. On the second floor, relocation of the entrance elevators is accommodated by swapping the elevator area and fitness facilities. There is no impact to the hotel’s rooms or operations.
     
  2. Close the Main Street parking entrance to accommodate active ground floor space.
    Circulation through the inside and outside parking areas is maintained at acceptable levels without a mid-building entrance on Main Street. Removing this entrance provides space for five additional parking spaces. This extra parking provides the capacity to convert five spaces at the corner of the building to active uses. The space is large enough to accommodate retail, but any active use with a transparent front to the sidewalk would dramatically improve the building’s interaction with the street. The space could house a lobby, seating area, business center, or meeting rooms for example. Combined with the relocation of the vestibule, active use can be fully extended to the building’s corner.
     
  3. Close one of the rear parking entrances to accommodate active ground floor space.
    As stated above, two automobile entrances to the ground floor parking are plenty for circulation, and so closing one of the rear parking entrances provides another opportunity to swap driveway space for active use. With the relocation of the vestibule, the changes still allow for total parking to be maintained. Combining all three options allows an entrance to the hotel at the corner and active ground floor space on Main Street and 20th Street, while increasing the total number of parking spaces. 
     
  4. Design the ground level for future conversion.
    A parking-oriented design must plan for the near-term future of the Crossroads. The neighborhood is significantly over-parked today, with nearly half its land area dedicated to underutilized surface lots. In a streetcar adjacent location with good walkability, surplus parking will soon be even more dubious. While the previous three modifications improve the design while maintaining parking, over time a portion of the parking will likely become more desirable as a different use. Thought should be given to this emerging condition by designing the ground level for future conversion. In the future, if designed to accommodate it, the ground floor can house more active and productive uses benefitting you and the hotel, while creating a better street environment for hotel guests. Convertible parking structures are common across the country and there is an established path to accommodate parking today and active uses tomorrow

This collection of modest design changes maintains the operational requirements of the hotel while addressing the needs of pedestrians and the neighborhood. We believe these changes can make a big difference in the quality of the project, and integrate it with the surrounding neighborhood. Each of these changes is also be accomplished without compromising the hotel’s operational needs. We ask that you incorporate the above changes into your project, and thank you again for the generosity of your time and attention to this important issue. We further appreciate and applaud your commitment to downtown Kansas City and look forward to your continued future success.

Sincerely,

James W. Rice Vice President of Planning & Development,
Development Committee Chairman
Downtown Neighborhood Association

cc: Mr. Troy Schulte
Councilwoman Jan Marcason
Councilman Jim Glover
Mr. Robert Langenkamp, EDC
Mr. Jeffrey Williams, City Planning & Development
Ms. Diane Binckley, City Planning & Development

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