Country Club Plaza

Country Club Plaza, Kanas City, Missouri

The Country Club Plaza is a famous American shopping center in the Country Club District of Kansas City, Missouri.  This privately-owned plaza is often referred to as “The Plaza.”

This shopping center comprises 18 separate buildings, including 804,000 square feet of retail space and 468,000 square feet of office space.  The buildings are built with a flair reminiscent of Spain (Seville in particular) and are situated on different blocks, mostly west of Main Street and mostly north of Brush Creek, and blend into the Country Club neighborhood around it.

The basic design of the Country Club Plaza reflects classic European Spanish influences yet does not include a traditional open plaza. Instead, there are more than 30 statues, murals, and tile mosaics on display in the area, as well as significant architectural reproductions of Seville.  The Plaza also includes reproductions of San Francisco’s Path of Gold streetlights.  Other noteworthy art pieces include the classics, nature, and American historical themes such as westward expansion and a magnificent fountain featuring four horses rearing up on their hind legs, designed by Henri-Léon Gréber.

Established in 1922 by J. C. Nichols, the Plaza hosts high-end retail establishments, restaurants, entertainment venues, and offices.  The Plaza’s neighborhoods are typically upscale apartment buildings and mansions, especially those of the Country Club District built along Ward Parkway on the Plaza’s southern and southwestern side.  The Country Club Plaza is named in the Project for Public Spaces’ list 60 of the World’s Great Places.  Historically, it was the first shopping center in the world designed to accommodate shoppers arriving by automobile.

Although the Plaza was designed and built to accommodate visitors arriving by car, it is unlike modern shopping malls with sprawling parking lots. Instead, the Plaza’s parking is concealed in multilevel parking garages beneath and behind the shops and on the rooftops of buildings.

The Plaza was also the first shopping center to use the percentage lease, where rents are based on a percentage of the gross receipts of tenants.  This concept was novel when Nichols invented it, but it is now considered a standard practice in today’s commercial leases.

Location of the Country Club Plaza

The 55-acre site is about four miles south of downtown, between 45th and 51st streets to the north and south, and between Broadway and Madison Street to the east and west.  The nearby Kansas state line is one mile to the west.

History of the Country Club Plaza

J.C. Nichols began acquiring the land for the Plaza in 1907 in Kansas City that was then known as Brush Creek Valley.  When his plans were first announced, the project was dubbed ‘Nichols’ Folly’ because most of the area was considered undesirable and primarily used for pig farming.

Nichols employed architect Edward Buehler Delk to design the new shopping center concept.  The Plaza opened in 1923 to immediate success and has continued that legacy today.

The winning Plaza combination was mixing some higher-end shops, such as Harzfeld’s, with a mix of more mid-level retailers such as Sears and Woolworth’s, as well such enterprises as a bowling alley, movie theater, and a grocery store to serve the daily needs of residents of the district.  Then around 1970, competition from newer suburban shopping malls led management to re-position the Plaza with luxury hotels such as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, higher-end restaurants, and upscale retailers, including Gucci and Polo Ralph Lauren FAO Schwarz, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bally, and Swanson’s.  The most current high-end stores currently located on Country Club Plaza are Burberry and Kendra Scott.

In 1998, the J.C. Nichols Company merged with Raleigh, North Carolina-based real estate investment trust Highwoods Properties, running the Country Club Plaza.

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