As of the new year, more than 100 residents lived in the 88 apartments of Park Lane, a brick, U-shaped building erected in 1925. They needed only cross J.C. Nichols Parkway to jog in Mill Creek Park or to loaf beside one of Kansas City's most photographed fountains. They lived within stumbling distance of the wide sidewalks and borrowed Spanish-Mediterranean architecture of Kansas City's healthiest neighborhood, the Country Club Plaza, where Giorgio Armani rubs elbows with Ann Taylor, and stop signs are so Raytown.
Park Lane's remaining tenants pay between $300 and $1,200 a month to rent basic efficiencies, smallish studios or good-sized apartments, a bargain for an area that calls Pottery Barn and J. Crew neighbors. The residents are different colors and earn varying incomes. Some are so old they creak; others are so young they gleam. Together, they are what one neighborhood activist in Kansas City calls "great human capital."
But in January, the building's out-of-town owners, Highwoods Properties, announced that it wanted to replace that human capital with lawyers. A lot of lawyers. Brady planned to tear down Park Lane and build an office building in its place. To do this, he asked for more than $12 million in public money. He began to move residents out.
Opponents fought back. Led by Ed and Jennifer Larson, they called themselves Protect Park Lane. They protested, they e-mailed, and they dialed phones. They corralled city councilman Jim Rowland to their side, and suddenly they had some political clout. Rowland publicly blasted Brady's idea. He introduced a council resolution to kill the plan before it could find its way to city hall. As Rowland took the issue to the council, the growing mob of Park Lane supporters brought the issue to the mayor's doorstep.
In a matter of weeks, they focused the city's attention on the multimillion-dollar corporation that had the gall to create scores of middle-class refugees so its lawyers could have a view of Mill Creek Park. On Monday, the building's protectors seemed to have won. Highwoods killed its own proposal to raze the historic building.
So victory came to Protect Park Lane, and defeat came to Barry Brady. But at what price? Highwoods promises to keep evicting residents until Park Lane is empty. Taxpayers lose an opportunity to speak against the abuses of tax breaks handed out to fabulously wealthy developers. And a big, important question remains unanswered: But for the outrage of citizens, would it have actually been possible for Highwoods to persuade city hall it was a good idea for public money to pay for destroying homes and building new offices on the ritzy Country Club Plaza?
The handshakes and deals leading to the Park Lane mayhem date back six years and implicate a host of city leaders. That history shows that the war Jennifer Larson was fighting is far from over.
Park Lane was designed by George Post, an architect famous for contributions to the New York skyline, particularly the New York Stock Exchange. Park Lane is the only Post building in Kansas City, and preservationists believe that alone makes the structure eligible for the national register of historic buildings.
The Plaza's property owners have never registered buildings, despite the area's historic and heralded status, so Park Lane has not received recognition as a landmark -- not even in 1996, when its owner proposed "preserving" the building as a fancy boutique hotel.
It was built during J.C. Nichols' creation of the Plaza, a shopping district still successful seven decades later. But J.C. Nichols died in 1950, and a North Carolina real estate company now makes decisions for the Plaza. That company, Highwoods Properties, owns Park Lane and controls $53.7 million in city tax money reserved for Plaza projects.
Highwoods got control of the city's money in part by promising to convert Park Lane to a hotel. That proposal was just one part of an application for tax-increment financing (TIF) subsidies for the Plaza. The plan called for nine projects on the Plaza, estimated to cost $250 million. It included Valencia Place, a stretch along the Plaza's main drag that now features new stores for the Gap and Banana Republic, an unobtrusive parking garage, an extravagant stairway that leads to chic McCormick and Schmick's restaurant and an office building for the Lockton insurance company.
For the commitment to improve its own property and for constructing "public infrastructure" needs such as parking garages, the J.C. Nichols Company would be reimbursed $53.7 million through taxes generated on its Plaza properties.
In 1997, the TIF Commission approved the plan, and shortly thereafter, the city council added its blessing.
The following year, Highwoods Properties and the J.C. Nichols Company merged in a $544 million deal that made the Kansas City company a division of the Raleigh, North Carolina-based real estate powerhouse. Barry Brady, the CEO of J.C. Nichols, retained control of Kansas City operations, including the treasured Plaza.
The Highwoods executive made the hotel idea a low priority, so for the first five years of the Plaza TIF plan, life went on as normal at Park Lane. New tenants signed yearlong leases as recently as last November.
But in January 2001, managers began pulling tenants into Park Lane's first-floor office to sign new leases with termination clauses. Rumors began to fly. Then a January 11 Kansas City Business Journal article announced that Brady had dropped the boutique hotel plan, saying it was no longer "feasible." Highwoods would raze Park Lane to put up an office building instead.
The plans departed drastically from what the city council had approved. They also deviated from Brady's own promises in a 1997 letter. Brady had assured TIF administrators that "each element of our plan has been judiciously calculated to contribute to the preservation of the Country Club Plaza. Every element of our plan is inextricably tied to the others; combined, the plan is designed to be both economically feasible and generate maximum impact for our community. Our commitment to the plan in its entirety remains steadfast."
Yet no market study had been conducted on Brady's "judiciously calculated" plan for a boutique hotel on the Plaza. In fact, TIF documents barely mention the project in the thick Plaza plan, except for a brief paragraph in which Park Lane is described as "outdated" and an "economic underutilization of the site."
Brady nonetheless anticipated no problem getting approval for the new plan, which required zoning and land-use changes in addition to city approval for tearing the building down.
The plan to demolish Park Lane hit the third floor particularly hard. Ed and Jennifer Larson waited in their apartment there for word to come in writing confirming Highwoods' intentions. They were furious that the company let residents find out about the building's fate through the media, and Brady's excuse left them unimpressed. "Their response was that it all happened in a week," Jennifer says. "It all fell together, so let's go out and do it." Still, the Larsons and their fellow tenants were in good company: TIF commissioners found out the same way.
Jennifer Larson questioned whether Highwoods really had notified tenants of the new plans as soon as possible. She later learned that Brady had decided a year earlier that his company would prefer to put an office building on the site.
When it became clear that Park Lane residents were not going quietly, Brady called a tenants' meeting. More than seventy residents loaded into the spacious Park Lane lobby, where an original architectural rendering of the same lobby hung framed on the wall. With a young attorney named Spencer Thompson at his side, Brady told residents they had until April 30 to move out. The company would begin demolition in the summer, with a completion date of 2004 for the new office building.
The idea that their building could be destroyed dismayed many of the residents, but not as much as the confidence with which Brady assured them that resistance was futile. It was just a matter of "variances," he said, and the project would commence. "There wasn't any doubt in their minds that these things would go through," says Jennifer Larson.
Tenants learned that Brady had found a main tenant for the office building: the law firm Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin. Blackwell Sanders has historically been the second-largest law firm in Kansas City, with clients such as Hallmark, Applebee's, Commerce Bank, the Kansas City, Missouri, school district -- and Highwoods Properties.
Park Lane residents say that Brady and Thompson (of Blackwell Sanders) approached them in a condescending manner. "It was very, very ill-handled," says one resident. "I didn't realize I could get so riled up in a meeting."
The residents at Park Lane came together in a strange sort of fraternity. Neighbors began to chat about what was going to happen, if they really had to be out in just a few months, whether they would get help moving from the landlords. Tenants stopped each other in the lobby and discussed the management's attempts to get people to sign different leases just weeks before Highwoods announced the April 30 eviction date.
The company let nineteen-year-old Emily Downham sign a one-year lease in late November, only to rescind that contract less than two months later. "I would never have signed had I known that," Downham says. "I wish they would have said something."
Residents weren't sure whether anything illegal had been done. But they certainly believed that something about Highwoods stank, and they weren't going to let the building go without a fight.
Ed and Jennifer Larson became the chief agitators in the way that leaders seem to materialize in a crisis. Before January, the couple was neither overtly political nor familiar with the concept of tax-increment financing. But the Larsons felt compelled to take charge for two reasons: Highwoods, in their opinion, had grossly mistreated its tenants. And Park Lane, with or without those tenants, should remain standing.
"We never considered ourselves activists," Jennifer Larson says. "We're preservationists at heart."
"We never thought we would be trying to save a building," Ed Larson adds.
On January 26, the couple organized a protest in Mill Creek Park that put Park Lane residents shoulder to shoulder with other preservationists and neighborhood activists angry about the Highwoods proposal. Although many were motivated by the prospect of being evicted, "Protect Park Lane" protesters focused on the real estate company's intent to demolish the building. It was a mild event, not uncommon for Mill Creek Park, but it inaugurated the public dissent that would later quash the plan.
In the crowd, among signs reading "KC History for Sale" and "Show Me the Blight," stood Paul Minto, president of the West Plaza Neighborhood Association and victor in the late 1990s fight over the Van Tuyl project, which would have replaced existing Plaza buildings with new apartments, office structures and parking. A local architect with the effusive presence of a politician, Minto preached that the Highwoods plan presented a threat similar to the Van Tuyl proposal's, but he warned that the development company and Blackwell Sanders were bigger players in the city than Van Tuyl was.
Recruited by the Larsons, Minto jumped into the thick of Park Lane. "It's the people in North Carolina looking to maximize the dollar," Minto told the Pitch shortly after the Mill Creek protest. "It's purely a business deal to them. And I don't think what's good for them in the short term is good for the city in the long term."
The group also included Historic Kansas City Foundation board member Jane Flynn, an advocate for historic structures. Flynn and others urged protesters not to limit their wrath to Highwoods alone. "BS = Blackwell Sanders," read one sign, a popular ideology in the minds of many Park Lane supporters once they learned that the law firm actually wrote the Plaza TIF plan in the first place -- the plan with the phantom boutique hotel replacing Park Lane. Brady called the criticism "short-sighted" and the firm's authorship of the plan "coincidental."
"It's a classic bait and switch," Minto countered. "Nobody would have given them TIF to do a new office building on the Plaza."
Blackwell Sanders' image took a hit as a result of the Park Lane fiasco, and it didn't help that the law firm got embroiled in the controversy at a time when politicians were pushing for downtown revitalization. Located at Two Pershing Square, the office building attached to Union Station, Blackwell Sanders was moving in the wrong direction, heading south instead of north to consolidate its Kansas City and Johnson County offices. Even more, the law firm had its own ties to the very TIF plan it aimed to capitalize on.
Blackwell Sanders chairman David Fenley was intimately involved with the Highwoods TIF plan from the beginning. It was Fenley who in 1997 responded to a six-question letter from TIF commissioners concerned with some aspects of the Plaza plan. They wanted to know, for instance, whether the ambitious $250 million proposal could be broken up into smaller projects and approved piece by piece. Fenley said no. The developer, he wrote back, "seeks assistance for all of our projects because they are all interrelated and key to the plan to position the Plaza for the next 75 years."
As attorney for J.C. Nichols Company, Fenley was involved in almost every TIF-related communication leading up to the city council's March 1997 approval to move forward. On March 13, 1997, he and Brady met with then-councilman Ken Bacchus, who agreed to introduce the Plaza plan ordinance. He wrote the first letter requesting TIF reimbursement from the city in the amount of $20,000.
It would seem fortunate to Blackwell Sanders that the hotel industry was hurting enough for Highwoods to drop its boutique hotel plan for Park Lane and build a law office instead. Or perhaps it should seem worrisome to preservationists that Blackwell Sanders just wrote another TIF plan, approved by the TIF Commission last November, to put a boutique hotel in the old, deteriorated Hotel President downtown.
By spring 2003, the Hotel President's developer, Ronald Jury, plans to have created a 200-room hotel in the brick shell, followed later by new apartment and retail spaces and a 425-car parking garage on the surrounding block.
TIF documents on the Hotel President plan include market analyses and research on the feasibility of a boutique hotel downtown, where the main source of guests would be the convention center. The reports say that while the hotel industry has taken a hit during the past few years, the President plan would be both possible and profitable -- with the help of TIF money, of course.
Until February 13, the Park Lane issue was just a typical losing battle in which angry citizens railed impotently against a mighty corporation. The dominoes still seemed to be in place for Highwoods' plan to succeed. Brady remained confident that his company would sell the city on the public advantages of a new Blackwell Sanders office building and the years of economic merriment it would ensure for the Plaza.
But on February 13, Park Lane landed squarely on Mayor Kay Barnes' lap. Opponents of the Highwoods plan loaded into the mayor's first televised town-hall meeting with neighborhood leaders from throughout the city. After sitting through a lengthy discussion of the recent ice storm and tree-branch removal, Jennifer Larson approached the microphone and changed the course of the meeting permanently.
"Could you please explain how this proposed project would support your plans for providing affordable housing and rebuilding downtown as the heart of our city?" she asked. Audience members burst into applause. A few yelped.
"Let me give you my response," Barnes said, prompting the crowd to hush. "I know that many of you have concerns about that proposed project, and I want to make it very clear that the discussion at this point is not about city hall, it's not about the TIF Commission, it's not about the City Planning Commission. It's a concept that has been developed in the private sector."
"It's a concept," Larson cut in, "that has made people as old as 100 and residents who have lived there as many as 32 years leave their homes."
"May I continue?" the mayor asked.
"I'd like the opportunity to give you my response," Barnes said. "The project, if it comes to the city at all -- sometimes they do and sometimes they don't -- but if this one does, it will first go to the city planning commission, and that's a bit of a shift from how we've handled projects before. So it will go to the city planning commission. It will then go to the TIF Commission if it gets past the city planning commission, and then eventually come to the mayor and city council."
Barnes said she had her own reservations about the plan but wanted to withhold judgment until she saw a final proposal. "I want to see what evolves," she said. "It could be something we all feel good about. We will see."
But audience members were not ready to let the topic rest. Following Larson, a bemused Hilda Gibbs, president of the Plaza-Westport Neighborhood Association, approached the microphone, dressed in a yellow "Neighborhood Alliance" T-shirt and wearing white pearls. "I don't see any reason why they should even ask for TIF money," she said. "Since when is the Plaza eligible for TIF money? Oh! I could ask for TIF money to remodel my house, then, couldn't I? Okay. So the budget crunch is here, and I think it would be most unfair that these kind of people have the nerve even to ask for TIF money."
Barnes tried to shift attention to other issues, even touchy agenda items such as the police tax that will appear on the April 2 ballot, but Park Lane comments dominated the meeting. "What is always good for the big guy, i.e. Highwoods Properties, is not always good for the rest of us who live in that area," said one man, earning another round of applause.
The mayor again tried to calm the crowd. "I think it's important to remember that the city has done nothing at this point," Barnes said. "No action has been taken by the city, no decisions have been made. It has not even come to any part of city government."
Near the end of the meeting, another activist, this one with a gray beard and white T-shirt, stepped before the mayor and called her on the argument that citizens should simply sit on their hands until Highwoods finalizes its plan.
"Mayor, the problem is precisely that the city is not doing anything about this. It is intolerable to allow TIF to be used to encourage the kinds of things that destroy our neighborhoods, that destroy downtown. And our officials and our staff cannot sit there and say, 'Well, we're just waiting to see how it turns out while our neighborhoods and our housing are destroyed. It is incredibly important that we do take leadership in this city and say what TIF will be used for and what it will not be used for."
Barnes then reminded the audience that reimbursements in TIF programs really go toward public improvements, such as parking. But by the meeting's end, most in attendance seemed to depart with the impression that the TIF incentive is supposed to be used for areas considered blighted and in dire need of development. Barnes could have told them that isn't the case at all.
TIF, as allowed by Missouri law, permits subsidies for development throughout Kansas City. Properties need be eligible for only one of three categories: blighted areas, conservation areas or economic-development areas. Those categories encompass pretty much all the land in this world and beyond. Barnes knows the rules because she chaired the TIF Commission from 1996 to 1998. During her tenure, she approved and signed the agreement for the Plaza TIF plan as a conservation project.
The Park Lane controversy arrived as the mayor was pushing for downtown revitalization. It couldn't have been a worse time for a major law firm already located at subsidized Union Station to flee south. But Barnes never opposed the plan, opting instead to see the final proposal before expressing an opinion that could be seen as either approval or disapproval of the state of TIF. Her patience was fortunate; as the Park Lane situation continued to swell, the Missouri General Assembly received Barnes' proposal to reinvigorate downtowns throughout the state, utilizing TIF-style incentives.
When the mayor's downtown rhetoric continued, citizens were not the only ones to challenge her weak handling of Highwoods. On the afternoon of February 13, just hours before Barnes' town hall meeting, Councilman Jim Rowland appeared outside Park Lane to show his support for residents and those opposed to having tax money go to the Highwoods plan. Surrounded by supporters and absorbed by TV camera crews, Rowland proclaimed that it was time city leaders stood behind their promises to revive downtown. "My answer and my response to Highwoods is 'no.' And it's 'yes' to downtown; it's 'yes' to development that will breed other development," he said to the cheering crowd. "If you want office space on the Plaza, fine," he added. "But do it with your own money."
Rowland didn't mention Barnes by name, but it was clear that he meant to swing pressure her way. "I think it's inconsistent for someone to say we have a downtown revitalization plan and yet offer the same incentive in the Plaza as downtown," Rowland told the Pitch.
Less than two weeks after his Park Lane press conference, Rowland returned with what would become a devastating blow to the Highwoods plan. The councilman introduced a resolution that would kill TIF support for the office idea before the proposal ever reached the city planning commission or TIF commission members.
At Highwoods, Barry Brady reacted with surprise and anger that Rowland would take such a preemptive strike. "I just think it sets a terrible precedent," he said.
The idea was scheduled for committee consideration and possibly full council attention March 6. But on Monday, Brady withdrew his TIF proposal for the Park Lane building, making Rowland's resolution pointless. At first, it seemed that Park Lane supporters had won. After all, the building would survive the summer and the $12 million in public money would be spent elsewhere. But in withdrawing the plan, Highwoods Properties also removed itself (and Blackwell Sanders) from the center of what could have been a landmark political debate on the city's use of tax incentives. Moreover, the city planning commission, TIF commission and city council avoided the task of judging Highwoods' questionable plan and alienating either a number of angry voters or the powerful Kansas City development community.
Rowland, for his part, claims that Highwoods' withdrawal won't silence the discussion. "I think the time has come for us to once and for all establish some sort of policy that is coherent," he says. "There's a powerful message we can send to the whole city, and specifically developers, that there are places in our city that need assistance, that need economic development, incentives to revitalize and rehabilitate."
But the city council has flirted with TIF reform before, as recently as last summer, only to let the idea wilt by autumn, like flowers on the Plaza.
Those flowers, incidentally, are tended by a company called Rosehill Gardens. And Evert Asjes, a 4th District councilman, tends Rosehill Gardens as chairman.
Last summer, Asjes introduced an ordinance to the city council that would have established a city TIF policy. It would have limited the types of taxes that can go toward reimbursing developers. It would have restricted where TIF projects can take place. And it would have placed time limits on projects so developers could not put plans on hold for years.
Asjes' interest in TIF reform was motivated by a 1998 audit by Mark Funkhouser in which the towering, baritone-voiced city auditor concluded that the city's chief economic tool was handled in an unaccountable manner by a system rife with the potential for errors and conflicts of interest.
Funkhouser proposed a new model for TIF, but the Economic Development Corporation -- the nonprofit administrator of TIF -- adopted few of his suggestions. When asked how the current TIF program compares with the one audited in 1998, Funkhouser tells the Pitch, "The situation remains as it was."
Asjes' ideas, which came under attack from business leaders who said his changes would hobble Kansas City development, reflected a misunderstanding of city development, says Peter Yelorda, the current chairman of the TIF Commission.
To Yelorda, the way to ensure that TIF is used appropriately is not to limit it from the outset but to let the process work. Let city planning study the land use and zoning issues, let the TIF Commission study the financial aspects of the proposal and let the city council decide whether a particular plan jells philosophically with the city's goals.
"This is the classic struggle of progression," Yelorda says. "The issue is how many times we get it right."
While Yelorda admits that TIF members are responsible for looking out for the good of the city, he cannot recall a time when the TIF Commission rejected a plan for reasons other than questionable finances.
Asjes' reforms would have forced the TIF commission into more of an analytical role and limited the amount of time developers have to begin a project. "My ordinance says if you're going to start something, do it," Asjes says.
Yet Asjes didn't govern by that credo. After taking a hit from developers, Asjes pulled back his reform proposal and sent it for review to the EDC, where similar ideas had previously stalled and where Asjes says his proposal remains.
And Asjes won't exploit the Park Lane debacle to waken the ordinance from its slumber. Since being elected to the council in 1999, Asjes has recused himself from voting on all issues involving the Plaza -- the dominant commercial center of the city and of his district and a core population center of his constituency. The reason? Highwoods is a Rosehill Gardens customer. Asjes feels his business connection with the company would create a conflict of interest were he to comment or vote on Plaza issues.
Protect Park Lane received its greatest boost from Rowland's hard-line stance, but the Larsons reached out to kindred spirits throughout the community to form a sizable and, more important, cranky-as-hell union.
On February 7, the Historic Kansas City Foundation voted unanimously to oppose demolition of Park Lane. That was no surprise given the group's perspective, but the board's decision lit a fire under the preservation community and helped spread word to the rest of Kansas City. The feedback even had board member Bruce Rahtjen considering a call to Highwoods' North Carolina headquarters. "They may not be aware how much anger and annoyance is being generated in Kansas City because of this plan," he said. The group began trying to get the building listed as a national historic site.
Meanwhile, many residents at Park Lane continued to juggle their protests with apartment hunting as the April 30 deadline loomed. For them, the one recurring aspect of this two-month-old dilemma was that they didn't know who to trust.
Nine days after their ugly meeting with Barry Brady and Spencer Thompson, Park Lane residents were treated to a much more benevolent session with a firm hired to help tenants relocate. Residents learned that they would receive $1,500 for their troubles -- three times the amount TIF law requires for relocation costs -- once they were gone.
Tenants still peppered Brady and representatives of Nunnink Associates with contempt for their treatment so far. But Kevin Nunnink, the statesmanlike CEO of Nunnink Associates, disarmed some residents by announcing his company's main role was to make the unpleasant situation as painless as possible. The angry crowd calmed slightly, and Jennifer Larson even apologized to the Nunnink representatives for what might have seemed like misdirected anger.
But neither Larson nor any other resident contacted by the Pitch for this story knew at that time that Nunnink Associates wrote the 1996 appraisal report calling Park Lane an "outdated" structure. Highwoods used that analysis to push its plan through TIF and the city council -- and eventually hired Nunnink for its relocation services.
Although that original plan did not call for Park Lane's destruction, some residents were upset that the supposedly benign relocation company had profited from the Plaza TIF plan all along. "It's like the judge asking the executioner for advice," says Joseph Lorusso, a self-employed artist who lives and works in Park Lane. "It doesn't surprise me, because everybody's in cahoots. Everybody's in bed together."
As of late February, Barry Brady claimed that he was still confident his plan would pass through the proper channels successfully -- so confident, in fact, that the Highwoods exec said he had not thought about what to do with the Park Lane property should city planning, the TIF Commission or the city council reject the idea for an office building.
His mood has changed. Now Brady says his company will consider other options for the property but continue to move residents out.
A week ago, nothing could have seemed better for Park Lane supporters than Highwoods' withdrawal of the new plan. But that decision throws what might have been an important process of public decision-making into relative ambiguity. Gone is the opportunity for an official public debate on the issues brought up during the mayor's runaway town-hall meeting. Gone is the pressure on city leaders to declare which developers deserve public subsidies and which, if any, should just pay their own way.
So while Park Lane's protectors can claim victory, they may be giving up more than they're getting. After an initial burst of excitement from that camp, the Highwoods' decision to pull its plan has left people throughout the city, from neighborhood activists such as Paul Minto to EDC president Andi Udris, wondering what happens now.
"To pull this one out of public debate is a loss for Kansas City," Minto says, adding that the Park Lane situation was exactly the issue that could get the entire state talking about TIF.
To Udris, the very people who seem to benefit from Highwoods' Monday decision -- the vocal residents and preservationists -- may be most hurt that discussion never reached the public stage.
"I think they ended up getting a worse [outcome] now. As owner, Highwoods can still tear the building down," he says. "Okay, Rowland or other council members can declare victory, but where's the victory? It would have been better if they would have gotten in here and gotten it rezoned -- because that's the real argument: 'Should it be office or residential.' I needed to hear what that planning commission said that would be. The point is, I don't think the problem's going to go away. It'll be back."
By the end of April, Highwoods will have a mostly empty building on its hands, and as Udris points out, it's doubtful the company will continue to drain its building of tenants and continue using it as an apartment building.
So will the boutique-hotel idea make a comeback? That's doubtful, considering that Brady has pointed to a February 27 Wall Street Journal article about the decline of that industry as proof that such an operation on the Plaza would be impossible. (Yet the same idea moves forward at the Hotel President downtown.)
One certainty right now is that $12 million in public money will not go toward the construction of a new home for Blackwell Sanders on the Plaza.
Regardless of the outcome, Highwoods has already begun to destroy the ideal Plaza environment described in a 1997 report written by a Washington, D.C., research company.
"There is plenty of evidence that supports an urban renaissance where people from empty-nesters to professional baby boomers are seeking the convenient and cosmopolitan lifestyle," the report reads. "Like all great pedestrian districts in the country, the Plaza needs to develop and maintain a critical mass of high-quality housing."