Heart of the heart of Lee’s Summit still vacant

tporter@lsjournal.com rpulley@lsjournal.comMay 8, 2013 

  • 2 The number of years since Maxwell’s Grill, located on the corner of S.E. Third and Douglas streets in downtown Lee’s Summit, closed.

If the heart of the heart of Lee’s Summit is considered the intersection of S.E. Third and Douglas streets in downtown, it would make sense that the area bustles with commercial development and entertainment activity.

However, the big elephant in the room – or in this case, the space formerly occupied by Maxwell’s Restaurant and Bar, 301 S.E. Douglas – remains unoccupied as the property manager seeks the perfect fit for use of the site.

It’s coming up on two years since Maxwell’s closed shop and for Michael VanBuskirk, a principal at Zimmer Real Estate Services and a Lee’s Summit resident, leasing the 8,092 square-foot space on the corner of Third and Douglas has been what he says is a “labor of love.”

VanBuskirk was named last year the property manager of 33,000 square-feet of space in the Hartley Block and Darron buildings by Rialto Capital Advisors. Rialto, a Miami-based company, took over the property in 2011 from local developer Kurt Pycior after purchasing the properties through an auction for a total of $3.8 million.

The former Maxwell’s Grill sits in the Hartley Block, which since November of last year has housed the corporate headquarters of Retail Management Specialist – owner of Red Racks Thrift store. RMS occupies 4,500 square feet of office space in the top floor of the Hartley Block, above the restaurant bar space that once belonged to Maxwell’s.

“I took on this project as a labor of love,” VanBuskirk said in a sit-down interview May 6 inside the Journal’s office. “Over the last two years, we took what was a big problem – I think we have done a good job of tackling space. Unfortunately people don’t see the (RMS) space because it’s on the second floor.”

VanBuskirk added the former Maxwell’s space has been repeatedly shown, but the right fit hasn’t been established.

“When you have a bar space come available, everybody who wants to own a bar comes out of the woodwork,” he said. “But, no one has a good business plan. No one has a good business plan or they’ve never ran a bar. I’ve reviewed several business plans for people that were interested in part of that space. We want to make sure we put somebody in there that has a chance to make it. It doesn’t do any of us any good to occupy that space and have it last for six months.”

VanBuskirk declined to say how many times the space has been shown since Zimmer took over. He also couldn’t speak to any current dealings that may be in the works.

The restaurant space – with both a front restaurant and a back bar with a separate entrance – was redesigned last year with the help of downtown Lee’s Summit architect Guy Gronberg. The redesign divided the restaurant and bar into two separate spaces with shared bathrooms and a back courtyard area that will allow two different tenants to operate, if needed.

“Based on market research specifically conducted for Downtown Lee’s Summit, including that of the well-known CLUE Group and its principal Kennedy Smith, our downtown can support a number of restaurants and entertainment venues, as well as a larger Farmers Market, a boutique hotel, more clothing stores, more home decor, green industries, small manufacturing and other types of businesses,” said Trisha Drape, executive director of Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street. “Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street’s Economic Restructuring Committee is focusing new efforts on recruiting these types of businesses, and that committee discusses at length the need for a restaurant or a market/deli on the corner of Third and Douglas streets.

“That vacancy is tremendously visible to visitors and the community, and it’s vital to us that it be filled for our downtown to be as vibrant as it can be.”

Rick Viar, chairman of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, said that even considering the challenges of an economy recovering from recession, two years having such prominent property vacant is excessive.

“That location is the epicenter of our city, it’s very, very important and essential that something be done,” Viar said. “It’s clearly not happening now.”

He said the LSEDC strongly supports getting a new owner or a tenant for that location sooner than later. Viar, a banker, said the LSEDC and community has resources which could help land a tenant for the property.

He said all owners want to get the maximum lease rate and for as long as possible, but the downtown buildings are special in that they are so prominent and make an impact on the impression and economic health and attractiveness of downtown.

“These are different, so we all have an interest and the community wants to help” Viar said, adding he firmly believes Lee’s Summit could support a signature restaurant at that location.

The asking price at the 8,000-square-foot space is most likely between $13 and $14 a foot, which is just slightly over the average in downtown Lee’s Summit. VanBuskirk said, though, that “no one is scared off by the rent” and that the price is competitive.

Greg Foss, the city’s director of development, said that in a sluggish economy and having a large square-footage in the former Maxwell’s makes leasing that property a challenge.

Foss said that he thought Zimmer had done a “great job” working on both sides of the Third Street. He said Rialto finished all the three-bedroom Vogue condo units located just south of Third Street on Douglas, made roof repairs to Darron Building and an analysis of other ways to divide the space in the former Maxwell’s to make it marketable.

“They’ve done some significant investment since they’ve acquired the buildings,” Foss said.

But there are some structural fixes needed on the Vogue condos.

Mark Dunning, director of codes administration, said when it was noticed that the facade on the Vogue building was sagging, Rialto hired a structural engineer to determine what was causing the failure. Some brick was cut out and the engineer said apparently there were not enough brick ties attached to the structure or that they weren’t attached properly, Dunning said. The company has met with the planning department and gotten approval to replace part of the brick with stucco, but brick facade will be required on first floor facing Douglas.

Dunning said the substandard work is a violation of city codes, but the fault is with the contractor that installed the facade. With Rialto working on the restoration, the city won’t take any action.

The city issued building permit for repair of the Vogue on March 12.

“At the end of the day, we just want things done right, if they’re working toward that end, that’s where we want them to go,” Dunning said.

The company also needs to complete work on the parking garage for to the Vogue building, Dunning said.

Dunning said to his knowledge there aren’t any code or structural problems with the older buildings that were part of the redevelopment, it is confined to the new construction south of the Hartley building.

The company is making minor repairs cornice brick on the Darron Building that happened this winter due to the freeze-thaw cycle, Dunning said.

VanBuskirk said he would love to have referrals from other brokers or sources, but to date the activity has been self generated.

He said he shows property in downtown Lee’s Summit at least once a week, although not always the Hartley or Darron buildings. Zimmer has buildings open on Third Street near Douglas and west down Third Street toward Market and on Jefferson. There are also two spaces on Douglas beneath the condos at 900- and 1,025-square feet that are unoccupied as well. At the Darron building, in the former Candid space, Risk Management has taken up occupancy and VanBuskirk said there is only one space left open there.

But, it is the unoccupied space in the Hartley Block that has commanded the most attention.

“For me,” he said, “I’m not in this for the money. As I’ve said before, it’s been a labor of love for me...There’s a lot of good activity going on and we’re trying to find the right fit for that space. It’s not from a lack of effort; it’s the exact opposite. Like I said we want to make sure we put somebody in that will succeed.”

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