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Balancing new and old in downtown Overland Park’s building boom

Edison Offices downtown OP.jpg
Posted at 6:51 AM, Dec 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-04 07:51:30-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Mary Cyr put it bluntly.

“We’re on the verge of huge transformation,” said the executive director of the Downtown Overland Park Partnership.

In the past four years, new apartment, office and retail buildings have popped up around downtown Overland Park. Cyr said the boom is unique compared to other cities because it’s happening in a suburb and around the historic part of town, not in an empty field.

“We’ve got people down here, in downtown, who have come downtown because it is a pedestrian-friendly, cool, urban-feel neighborhood in the middle of a wonderful suburb and there is nothing like that in the KC-metro area,” Cyr said.

Now, Cyr has the tall task of maintaining the walkable, local vibe that attracted the development in the first place. Her organization will reach out to local and independent retailers to fill storefronts, instead of relying on national chains to move in.

She’s excited for new ventures like Strang Hall, a food hall with a start-up element helping chefs launch their own creations.

“It’s kind of going along with what I think everyone sees moving ahead down here: an entrepreneurial, cutting edge, forward looking kind of environment for business,” Cyr points out.

She said businesses that move their offices to downtown will use the new changes as a recruiting tool when hiring new employees.

Janiece Vohland is the co-chair of the nearby Strang Line Neighborhood. She said she still feels the bones of a local, small town in downtown, but it’s impossible to ignore the modern changes.

Overall, Vohland said she sees downtown as on the upswing, but she feels there are some lessons the city and neighborhoods can take away from the recent building boom.

For one, she would like to see more done to promote affordable housing, questioning whether people working in downtown can even afford rent in one of the new apartment buildings.

And Vohland would like neighborhood groups to have more of chance to give input on projects ahead of time. That message hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.

“Moving forward, there will be a more intentional engagement with that group in a positive way,” Cyr promised.

Apart from the apartments and office buildings, the city is redesigning Thompson Park on the south side of downtown.