In the 1920s and '30s, the red-brick building at 923 Broadway was an auto-repair shop. Now the building is being demolished so that cars can drive up to buy a Jimmy John's.
Denise Phillips, a contract administrator for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department, confirms that the project has been approved. "It was first approved by the Downtown Council," says Phillips, whose office must sign off on drive-thru venues built adjacent to city boulevards.
The drive-thru brings not just a cosmetic change to the historic neighborhood but also an altered traffic flow along an already busy street that leads to a heavily used bridge.
"The Jimmy John's project was approved because the city zoning allows it," 4th District Councilwoman Jan Marcason tells The Pitch. "I was completely floored. I only found out about the project after the demolition had already started. The franchise owners never came to talk to us [the City Council]. Our development people and planning department never came to us about this.
"I do understand that the Jimmy John's owners made some concessions to the parks department because of the location," Marcason adds. "But I don't know exactly what those concessions are."
"We have asked them [JJRE of Kansas City LLC, which owns the property and holds this Jimmy John's local franchise license and others] to redesign the site because of the heavy traffic on that stretch of the boulevard," Phillips says. "We would have liked the driveway planned for the restaurant to be somewhat narrower, but it's a safety issue for pedestrians, so the driveway will be larger."
The Jimmy John's is planned for the heart of the iconic Garment District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Ann Brownfield, the executive director of the Garment District Museum, tells The Pitch: "I'm against the Jimmy John's location because it just doesn't belong there. This is a historic district with turn-of-the-century buildings. A drive-thru does not belong there."
Frank Sebree, owner of the Majestic Restaurant and the building at 931 Broadway, directly south of the property, says he's not opposed to the restaurant. But he says he had no idea that the city had green-lighted the project until shortly before the barricades were erected around the building. He tells The Pitch that other business owners in the neighborhood should have had a chance to weigh in on the decision.
"We did not get a voice or a chance to express our own approval or disapproval of the project," Sebree says. "They're adding a new curb cut on one of the busiest streets in the city, and it seems it was approved without the usual process."
Steve Noll, executive director of the Jackson County Historical Society, tells The Pitch
that 923 Broadway was a later addition to the Garment District and doesn't have significant architectural value.
"It was an in-fill building, probably replacing an older structure that was originally on the spot," he says. "For most of the past three decades, it was used as a storage facility."
The board of directors of the Historic Kansas City Foundation may not be first in line to get a No. 5, either. In a statement, they write: "We are concerned this proposal departs from best practices for urban downtown development and will negatively impact the surrounding historic buildings and neighborhood. The City's development policy and process should afford more opportunity for public and community input. Neighbors, investors and the public should be considered and have the opportunity to weigh in when matters of urban design and historic character are in question."
The media office for the Illinois-based Jimmy John's did not return phone calls for this story.
Rick Truman, managing director of Quality Hill Playhouse, just around the corner from the Jimmy John's project, is among those ready to wait and see what happens. "I like Jimmy John's," he says. "But I can't help wonder why they're opening on a street that already has a Quiznos and a Subway restaurant."