Downtown Office Summit showcases strength, viability for employees & residents

Downtown Office Summit panelists advanced their strategies as to why Downtown KC is the best location to live and work in the Kansas City region. The panel featured (from left) Pat Contreras, McCownGordon Construction; Christa Dubill, Blue Cross Blue Shield Kansas City; Jon Greenwalt, 15Five, Philadelphia; Brett Hautop, Workshape, San Francisco; and Tracey Lewis, Economic Development Corporation, Kansas City MO. (Photos by Mark McDonald.)

Downtown Kansas City’s reign as the region’s employment and residential leader was both palpable and measurable at the recent Downtown Office Summit.

“What an incredible moment in time it is for Kansas City to talk about development… to talk about all the good things happening in our community,” said Pat Contreras, Office Summit showrunner, as well as Vice President, Business Development, McCownGordon Construction.

Nearly 300 commercial real estate and leaders from the Kansas City region gathered on Oct. 18 at the Loews Kansas City Hotel for the 7th annual examination of the current Downtown office marketplace, along with forecasts for tomorrow.

“It’s important for all of us to come together and think critically about how we can continue to invest in and expand in our Downtown office market, ensuring a livable city for all, connecting our Downtown neighborhoods, and preserving our unique assets,” Mayor Pro Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw told the Office Summit audience in her opening remarks.

Throughout the afternoon, speakers consistently shared stories of rebounds in both urban core office participation and visitorship since the onset of the pandemic.

“Studies show Gen Z and Millennials want to be in Downtown neighborhoods; they want to be in walkable, urban, vibrant neighborhoods,” said Leonard Popplewell, Director, Cushman & Wakefield. “Our Downtown population has more than doubled in the last 10 years. We have more entertainment options and recreational opportunities than we’re ever had before.”

Tommy Wilson, DTC Director of Business Recruitment and Research, agreed with Popplewell, and raised the bar by pointing to independent data sources that underscore Downtown’s progress.

“When comparing our employee recovery to 26 other downtowns throughout the country, we are coming in at the top,” Wilson said.

By the third quarter of 2023, Downtown KC saw 74% of employees had returned to the office, and had recovered nearly 96% of visitors. According to Wilson, these results rank as the 5th and 3rd highest percentages (respectively) among major U.S. metropolitan areas, compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

The Downtown Council utilizes, a national provider of anonymous location data from mobile devices used by cities and downtown organizations across the country, to gather the data used to measure Downtown KC’s recovery, and compare the numbers of residents, employees, and visitors with those from 2019.

“Downtown KC is experiencing a higher percentage of employees returning to the office than suburban, single use office districts,” Wilson said. “We believe that businesses and employees want to be in an environment where there are numerous amenities and ample opportunities for social connection within walking distance of their office.”

Downtown Office Summit panelists shared experiences, theories, and ideas for nearly an hour during the popular 7th annual gathering at the Loews Kansas City Hotel.

The Downtown Office Summit program shifted gears from data to a panel discussion by examining what employees and employers want/need from today’s office setting.

One featured speaker, Brett Hautop, founder partner of Workshape, a West Coast consulting firm, captured the essence of the discussion with this comment:

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to a hybrid work environment, but if you give people choice, we find that people thrive, and they want that.”

Highlights of the spicy 50-minute panel discussion are included here:

Christa Dubill, Vice President, Chief Communications Officer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Kansas City, MO:

  • “We need to think about what our (Blue KC) employees need to better serve our members and better serve the city. We’ve been here for 85 years, and this (upcoming, new Blue Cross Blue Shield KC headquarters at 1400 Baltimore) building is symbolic of our commitment to this city.”
  • “Be where you need to be to get the work done.”

Jon Greenawalt, SVP, Customer Transformation, 15Five, Philadelphia:

  • “Companies with engaged workforces are 23% more profitable on average. Incorporating employee needs into a tailored hybrid office approach is of significant value in terms of attraction and retention.”
  • “Autonomy… to have a choice in how and when you come to work… is important. Every company has to have its own way of doing that. There is no cookie cutter approach to a hybrid work environment.”

Brett Hautop, Founding Partner, Workshape, San Francisco Bay Area:

  • “Company leaders who want to adapt to a more flexible way of working need to start with something basic. It’s not just about designing a new space, it’s about redesigning the way that you work.”
  • “The purpose of being in a space together needs to fundamentally change, and that is the hardest thing to change.”

Tracey Lewis, President & CEO, Economic Development Corporation, Kansas City, MO:

  • “Economic development is community development. Downtown is a community. The Eastside (along with the Northland and Southland) has a collection of communities. We are trying to develop all of those communities in a very individual way… to be very specific in terms of what those communities need.”

The 7th annual Downtown Office Summit remains as the Kansas City region’s leading, annual spotlight on the Downtown KC office/residential marketplace. The event placed an exclamation mark on the theme of Place Matters.

“Downtown endures as the most concentrated node for economic activity,” said Mike Klamm, 2022/23 Chair of the Downtown Council Board of Directors. “Some 35% of Kansas City area employees work in the Downtown environment. As a major employment center, Downtown’s success is directly linked to our surrounding, diverse neighborhoods as one interconnected whole.”

Click here to learn more about why Place Matters when it comes to locating your business in Downtown Kansas City. To read more about the 2023 Downtown Office Summit, click here for coverage by The Kansas City Business Journal.