2015 Year in Review

By Dennis Boone

On multiple levels, it was a milestone year.

For the Kansas City region, 2015 goes into the history books as a year of change. A lot of it good, as when the Royals snagged the 2015 World Series title, and some of it—depending on your perspective—perhaps not so good.

A handful of issues emerged as big breaking or running stories, including developments with plans for a single-terminal configuration at Kansas City International Airport and other plans for a new Downtown convention hotel. The Downtown streetcar starter line drew closer to completion, and Cerner’s massive south-town campus, the largest development project in state history, saw its ground-breaking. Less savory, perhaps, was the unrest at the University of Missouri that culminated in key resignations for that venerable institution’s leadership ranks, but that became a national story with long-reaching consequences. And the continued erosion of the employment count at Sprint Corp. was another story with huge consequences for this region.

There may have been bigger stories in the region this year that lacked the same kinds of impact on a regional business, but for our money, here are stories with the biggest impact on the Kansas City area’s business community.

January 9, 2015

Littler Mendelson, a national law firm that specializes in labor and employment law, announces that it will bring 275 jobs from its Global Services Center to Kansas City by consolidating 33 administrative offices around the nation. The move comes less than a year after another major firm based in San Francisco, Sedgwick, announced it was moving back-office operations here.

January 13, 2015

HOK completes its acquisition of 360 Architecture, one of KC’s leading designers of sports, recreational, entertainment and mixed-use facilities.

January 23, 2015

A Brookings Institution study of 80 metropolitan markets determined that, through 2013, Kansas City’s recovery from the recession ranked No. 73, noting that the gross domestic product for this region contracted by 1.3 percent in 2013.

January 25, 2015

Kansas City Power & Light says it will install and operate more than 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations in the region, the most ambitious installation of its kind by a U.S. electric utility, and one that will eventually be able to support 10,000 electric vehicles.

February 2, 2015

After the Princeton Review stripped the school of its Top 25 ranking for entrepreneurial programs, citing falsified metrics in its submission documents, the University of Missouri-Kansas City announces changes in the way the Bloch School of Management submits data for consideration in annual rankings of top business schools.

February 6, 2015

Kansas City adds another feather in its technology cap with the Global Entrepreneurship Congress releasing its list of the world’s most entrepreneurial cities, finishing in the top five. Madison, Wis., was the only other U.S. city in that group, along with Genk, Belgium; Yerevan, Armenia, and the No. 1 city, Buenos Aires.

February 10, 2015

The first major skirmish of 2015 in the long-running Kansas City border war comes as Dairy Farmers of America, the region’s largest private company, announces that it will build a new headquarters and move its 325 employees to western Wyandotte County.

February 13, 2015

Prime Healthcare, a California company, completes its acquisition of St. Joseph and Saint Mary’s medical centers. The two Missouri hospitals give the for-profit company a bi-state footprint, following the 2013 acquisitions of Providence Medical Center and Saint John Hospital in Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties. On the same day, Children’s Mercy Hospital performs its first pediatric heart transplant, on a 15-year-old girl from Kansas City.

February 25, 2015

It may sound like something out of science fiction, but the Fiber Wars become a reality as AT&T announces that it will begin service to rival Google Fiber’s 1-gigabit-per-second Internet speeds in the Kansas City region. Just as Google’s arrival in 2012 put Kansas City on the tech map, this move puts the region among a select few cities with competition in the 1-gig space.

March 9, 2015

The University of Kansas Hospital breaks ground an its $280 million Cambridge North Patient Tower, a seven-story facility that will add 92 beds, 12 operating rooms and offices for neurosciences and surgical oncology.

March 26, 2015

Waste Management, Inc., completes the roughly $390 million acquisition of local trash-hauler and landfill operator Deffenbaugh Disposal, from DLJ Merchant Banking Partners, a private equity firm.

March 31, 2015

Joe Ratterman turns the leadership of BATS Global Markets over to his successor as CEO, Chris Concannon. In Ratterman’s eight years as chief executive, BATS went from a struggling start-up to the world’s second-largest equities-trading platform, surpassing the NASDAQ and rivaling the New York Stock Exchange for daily trading volume.

April 9, 2015

Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., approves plans for a national soccer education and training center, a $62 mil. project near the Sporting Kansas City stadium in Village West entertainment district.

April 13, 2015

Further demonstrating the appeal of this region’s animal-health corridor, Integrated Animal Health, based in Queensland, Australia, announces that it will establish its U.S. headquarters in the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on the campus of the University of Kansas.

April 22, 2015

WireCo WorldGroup, one of the region’s 30 largest private-sector employers, announces that it will relocate its headquarters from the North-land to remodeled office space on 75th Street, on the Kansas side of the state line.

April 23, 2015

After weeks of difficult discussions that prompted ride-sharing service Uber to pull out of the Kansas City market, the city amended its rules on transportation for hire, yielding a compromise that kept the company here. As part of that, Uber drivers were not required to pay annual licensing fees to the city.

May 5, 2015

NorthPoint Development announces that it will build the largest spec building in the history of Kansas City. At 822,104 square feet, Inland Port XIV at Logistics Park Kansas City will be the first in the market with 36-foot clear height.

May 5, 2015

The American Royal announces that it will hold its 2015 American Royal Barbecue, the largest competitive cooking contest in the nation, at Arrowhead Stadium. It will be the first separation from the American Royal complex in the West Bottoms since its founding in 1979.

May 8, 2015

A group called PG Partners announces plans to build a $300 million, soccer complex on a 230-acre site in Grandview, featuring 15 soccer fields, a 130,000-square-foot multi-sport field house, retail space and even hotels, housing and parkland.

June 5, 2015

Kansas City announces that it has signed a “smart city” plan, a $15.7 million collaboration with Sprint Corp. and Cisco Systems. The goal is to install technology infrastructure throughout Downtown—in particular, on the streetcar starter line, with Sprint paying $7 million, Cisco $5 million and the city the balance.

July 21, 2015

Faced with sharp reductions in funding from the state, the Kansas Bioscience Authority orders a halt to new investments and lays off seven of its 13 full-time employees.

August 19, 2015

Following a series of informative and development meetings with nearby residents and Overland Park officials, Lane4 Property Group and The Kroenke Group announce that they are withdrawing their proposed Central Square plan. The project would have turned the former Metcalf South mall site into a mixed-use project with a large big-box anchor.

September 2, 2015

The Kansas City Animal Health Investment Forum draws hundreds of attendees, 17 companies from around the world, pitching animal-health technologies, products and services, and a record 47 investment groups.

September 14, 2015

Kansas City becomes just the sixth city nationwide to host a Techweek conference, drawing enough tech entrepreneurs and executives to warrant a quick confirmation that a second conference would take place here in 2016.

September 15, 2015

Hallmark Cards announces a major reorganization that will create three independently operated businesses out of its Hallmark North America structure—Hallmark Greetings, Hallmark Home and Gifts, and Hallmark Retail. The company says that reorganization sharpen the focus for each and improve competitiveness.

October 2, 2015

The Kansas Board of Regents votes to issue revenue bonds for a new Health Education Building and a parking garage on the campus of the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., a $115.6 million project that is expected to be completed in 2017.

November 1, 2015

Tenants begin moving into the One Light, the first residential high-rise in the history of Downtown. The 25-story, 315-unit complex is the first of potentially four similar structures planned by the Cordish Companies, which operate the Power & Light District, with construction of Two Light slated to start in 2016.

November 4, 2015

The University of Missouri-Kansas City adds $3.5 million in donations, drawing within $14 million of its $48 million fund-raising goal to build a Downtown Campus for the Arts. The campus would alleviate space issues on the main Volker campus and would be home to UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance.

November 6, 2015

After a 12-year renovation that unfolded in four phases, the General Services Administration announces that work is complete on the Richard Bolling Federal Building. The $280 million in projects transformed one of the Downtowns largest office buildings, at 1.2 million square feet.

December 1, 2015

Overriding the concerns of nearby residents and city planners, the Olathe City Council approves a major headquarters expansion plan for Garmin International. The city’s biggest corporation, and one of the region’s top employers, will build a 712,842-square-foot warehouse and manufacturing center, big enough to accommodate 2,700 employees and nearly doubling the current work force of 3,000.

December 9, 2015

The latest legal turn in a long-running lawsuit leads to a Jackson County judge’s order that  HCA Midwest Health pay $434 million to the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City for failing to honor commitments to fund hospital improvements as part of the purchase of several Health Midwest hospitals in 2003. HCA is expected to appeal the decision.

December 10, 2015

Kansas City’s Tax Increment Financing Commission signs off on a financing plan that includes tax breaks for the $187.5 million makeover of the Metro North Mall site. Metro North Crossing plans to raze more than 800,000 square feet of the structures on site and build 912,500 feet, creating a retail center of 1.13 million square feet.