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Zona Rosa ready to 'rock and roll'


by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

On Monday morning the security guard at the makeshift gate at Zona Rosa was standing outside of his car, and judging from his friendly, understanding tone, he had already talked to a few visitors that morning.

“Do you know where you’re going?” he asked.

It’s a question that visitors to the 93-acre, 1.2 million square foot retail, restaurant, office and residential “new urban” destination off Barry Road are bound to be asking themselves as they wander the streets of the sprawling complex in the future. In fact, they’re doing it now.

“Some of the residents from the nearby neighborhoods just kind of wander on in,” Rosemary Salerno, Zona Rosa’s general manager, said. “We have our entrances secured but they just find ways to come over. We’ll see people walking around and we’ll stop them because it is still a construction zone, which is why we’re pretty particular about who gets in and out of here.”

Zona Rosa is about to become a lot more welcoming, however. On Wednesday of this week is when Zona Rosa and its 31 retailers officially opened their doors to the public. The center’s phase 1 opening is the culmination of plans that began in 2001, when landowner Bonnie Poteet sold her family farm to Columbus, Ohio’s Steiner & Associates, with the express purpose of building the mix-use, “Country Club plaza of the Northland.”

It was Poteet, a Latin American Studies Professor at Bucknell University, who recommended calling the project Zona Rosa. In Mexico City, the Zona Rosa is known as the most “Americanized” portion of the city. Restaurants print menus in English, shop owners are bilingual and there is a ready supply of fast food restaurants and nightclubs. Tourist information centers provide maps and guides, if needed and the streets are often closed to allow browsing amongst the street side attractions and cafes.

Here, Zona Rosa is expected to bring a “sense of place” to an underserved market. Platte County leaders are counting on the center to earn about $200 million in retail sales annually – roughly 20 percent of the county’s combined retail sales in 2003. For these two reasons excitement abounds in and around the complex.

“As a consumer, I’m excited about the new restaurants and new shops,” said Platte County Commissioner Steve Wegner. “As a commissioner, I think it’s an excellent place for (the people in) Jackson, Clay, Johnson and Leavenworth counties to come and visit and see how great of county we have. It’s excellent to have a quality development and a development that has been done the right way…Platte County is a classy county and this just makes us a little more top drawer than we already are.”

Days before the opening, tenants milled in front of their storefronts, and a sense of excitement pervaded their interactions with other employees as they put the finishing touches on their window and counter displays. Maintenance workers scurried from one project to another of what no doubt seemed like an endless punch list of items. On Barry Road, Kansas City Public Works members busily painted traffic arrows.

Larry Plaisance, general manager for the Bravo! Italian Cucina restaurant, said that his restaurant, which plans to open on May 25, has been training its 160-member staff for about one week. He said that anticipation for the complex and the restaurant’s opening is “extreme.”

“Up until now, it’s been about the hype,” Plaisance said. “But now it’s about to happen. We’ll be ready to rock and roll.”

Salerno, herself surveying the activity at street level clutching a stack of papers, laughed happily at all of the activity.

“Everyone’s putting last minute touches on the stores, and cleaning the streets, and planting the final flowers, getting everything looking wonderful for (the opening) Wednesday,” Salerno enthused. “Everybody is just so excited about this project. It’s really very unique to the area…the whole ‘new urban’ retail design where you kind of have the feel of an old downtown district, with varying storefront designs…it really feels like its own little city, its own little town. Everybody who has seen the project has been overwhelmingly complimentary about it.”

Officially under the jurisdiction of the Kansas City North Patrol, Zona Rosa will nonetheless employ its own security staff, as the Country Club Plaza does. Salerno’s six-person office will manage the day-to-day business of running Zona Rosa, in addition to the housecleaning and maintenance staff. In all, more than 1,000 people will find employment there.

Already in pre-development for their second and final phase, which is expected to be complete in 2006, the complex will boast more than 100 stores, 1.2 million square feet of office and retail space and bring the total cost of the development to $100 million.

“It’s so multi-faceted. Literally you can live, you can shop, you can work, you can eat, and obviously the entertainment value and dining-out factors of it are very important, combined with the shopping aspects of it as well. It’s a lot of things to a lot of different people.”

Salerno outlined the events that they plan to showcase in the development’s town square – events that include a weekly summer jazz series, farmers markets, and art fairs.

“It’s really going to be a place for people to come, even if they don’t know what they’re going to be doing when they get here. We really feel like it’s a destination because there will always be something happening.”


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