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A new possibility for downtown's Parcel 5 

Now that there'll be no RBTL theater on Parcel 5, what will be built on that site?

City officials still want development that will draw people downtown year-round. And they believe something related to entertainment will do that.

Now they're looking seriously at "Kansas City Live!" – a combination bar, restaurant, and entertainment venue in downtown Kansas City. Mayor Lovely Warren led a delegation of Rochesterians to Kansas City last week to see the project. On the trip with her: Chief of Staff Alex Yudelson; Communications Director James Smith; local developers Dave Christa and Patrick Dutton; CGI Communications CEO Bob Bartosiewicz; Heidi Zimmer-Meyer of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation; and Steve Carter of the activist group People for Parcel 5.

Kansas City Live occupies a downtown site similar in size to Parcel 5. It's basically a block-long entertainment, restaurant, and bar area. Two-story structures containing bars and restaurants are on the sides, and a large, open, entertainment area, complete with a stage, is in the interior, topped by a clear, arched roof. Concerts and other events are held there year-round – more than 50 a year, Smith says.

In interviews after the trip, both Yudelson and Smith sounded impressed by what they saw. Smith talked about the potential for improving existing city events – Party in the Park events unaffected by inclement weather, for instance – and new ones. There could be a giant screen like the one in Kansas City Live!, and people could hold game-watching parties.

click to enlarge Kansas City Live!, a downtown entertainment venue, hosts more than 50 concerts and other events a year. - PHOTO BY STEVE CARTER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE CARTER
  • Kansas City Live!, a downtown entertainment venue, hosts more than 50 concerts and other events a year.

Kansas City Live! "offers a lot of what folks have given input on" during discussions about Parcel 5, Smith said. It's a combination of a venue space, performance space, open space, and commercial space.

Warren and her staff aren't talking about creating an exact reproduction of Kansas City Live! on Parcel 5. "It would be wrong if someone suggested that we're looking at taking Kansas City Live! and plugging it into Parcel 5," Smith said.

For one thing, there are obvious differences between the two cities. Kansas City is twice Rochester's size, and its downtown population is about 30,000, compared to Rochester's 7,000.

The bars and restaurants in Kansas City Live! are in permanent buildings. In Rochester, they might be in temporary structures or in shipping containers, or the site might have a combination of permanent and temporary structures, Smith and Yudelson said. And rather than assuming that a lot of new businesses would open right at the beginning, in Rochester they would likely be created over time, as the market demanded.

But, Smith said, Kansas City Live! offers ideas that can be adapted to Rochester. Combining an entertainment site with space and infrastructure for bars and restaurants, Yudelson said, could give Rochester a chance to market local businesses like craft breweries, which could occupy temporary spaces during events.

Official enthusiasm aside, the city would have to address several potential concerns. Among them:

• Noise. Parcel 5 is nearly surrounded by residential buildings. In Kansas City, there are residential buildings nearby, but only one is next to Kansas City Live!, Smith said. And while Kansas City Live! has a roof, the venue isn't "a formal, enclosed space," Smith said. There's open space between the roof and the top of the buildings containing the bars and restaurants. Could the noise from concerts and bar patrons on Parcel 5 be contained?

Smith and Yudelson insisted that right outside Kansas City Live!, they couldn't hear sound coming from inside. And if city officials decide to create something like Kansas City Live!, Smith said, they would "do it in a way" that doesn't affect surrounding residents.

• Would a site with self-contained bars and restaurants hurt existing downtown businesses?

• Some Parcel 5 activists have pushed for green space, with trees and grass. The entertainment venue would likely take up almost the entire site.

• Is the character of something like Kansas City Live! compatible with that its surroundings? From the beginning, city officials have talked about a fairly traditional, "quiet," development at Parcel 5 – housing, commercial, a large theater. Adjacent development likely has grown with that concept in mind. Would a concert venue surrounded by bars be out of character with its neighbors?

Downtown has several active neighborhood organizations, and they've been outspoken about plans for Parcel 5 and other sites. But while business interests were represented on the city's trip to Kansas City, no neighborhood representatives went along.

click to enlarge Kansas City Live!, a downtown entertainment venue, hosts more than 50 concerts and other events a year. - PHOTO FROM KANSAS CITY LIVE!
  • PHOTO FROM KANSAS CITY LIVE!
  • Kansas City Live!, a downtown entertainment venue, hosts more than 50 concerts and other events a year.

City officials and the others on the trip will get back together soon to share their thoughts, Yudelson said. And if something like Kansas City Live! seems to have some potential for Parcel 5, they'll engage the larger community, Yudelson said.

And, Smith said, "if there are other ideas, other options," city officials will want to discuss them.

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