A touch of Tuscany in the Midwest? That's what Kansas City, Mo.'s La Bella Vita lifestyle center, by Briarcliff Development Co., will offer. Set to open for Christmas season 2002, La Bella Vita will feature an upscale, outdoor retail environment just north of the Missouri River.

Development and demographics

Kansas City resident Charles Garney formed Briarcliff Development Co. in 1988. Yet, the Garney name has graced the area much longer. Garney's father founded a plumbing company in the city in 1924. When Garney took over the company, he grew it to be the second largest utility in the United States before selling it to its employees, while remaining chairman of the board.

As Briarcliff Development Co.'s CEO and President, Kathryn Thompson, says, “Over about 30 years, Charles Garney accumulated the property that is now Briarcliff West development — where La Bella Vita will be located.”

Nearly 12 years ago, Garney was successful in getting the city to approve a tax financing plan and an urban redevelopment plan for the site. “It was a blighted area where old limestone mining had taken place,” Thompson says.

Currently, nearly 275 executive homes — ranging in price from a half a million to $5.5 million — rest on the original 350-acre development. The balance of the property will consist of Class-A office space, luxury apartments and La Bella Vita shopping center.

La Bella Vita's demographics are predominantly executives aged 34- to 54-years-old. As Thompson describes, “In our immediate neighborhood, Briarcliff West, we have presidents and chairman of the boards of major corporations in the Kansas City area.”

Within the development's five-mile trade area, there is a mix of both executives and middle-income families. To the east, blue-collar workers make up the base.

A jewel of a property

In Italian, la bella vita means “the beautiful life.” As such, the project is slated to be the heart of the upscale Briarcliff West development.

“We're currently void of retail shopping,” Thompson says. “So we're creating this destination — a village meeting place where friends gather at the coffee shop in the morning, walk down in the evening, stroll the piazzas and have dinner.”

The lifestyle center's site was inspiration for its eventual development. “Its topography is interesting,” says Thompson. “Part of the property is actually shaped like the boot of Italy, which inspired us toward an Italian hill town development.”

Not only will La Bella Vita bring the latest in Main Street, national retail to the area, it also will bring convenience shopping. “That's not normally the way lifestyles are developed,” says Thompson. “They usually include more destination shopping and entertaining, but we have divided the center into precincts.”

One small precinct of La Bella Vita will feature a gourmet-type market where residents of the development can pick up fresh-prepared meals on their way home from work. In addition, the precinct will offer dry cleaning and a post office.

Destination: Breath-taking

Los Angeles-based Wet Design is the architect for La Bella Vita, and is creating its authentic Italian flavor, including plazas and piazzas.

“Wet Design is also creating Center Point fountain, the landmark for the project, as well as a children's fountain and an elongated promenade fountain,” says Thompson. “All this ties in with Kansas City because it's known as the City of Fountains.”

La Bella Vita also will feature several towers throughout. “They'll be two- and three-levels to give differing heights, like those in an Italian hill town,” Thompson describes. “We'll have the balconies, the awnings, the shutters. We're doing everything to make it as authentic a destination as possible.”

In addition to the draw of La Bella Vita's architecture, Briarcliff Development Co. has plans for special touches in both events and decorations. As Thompson says, “The goal of the lifestyle center is to always deliver activity. We envision musicians strolling, thematic banners and art festivals — so it's going to be inspirational and fun to visit any time of year.”

Retail anchors TBA

Who will be the primary anchors of La Bella Vita? “We just started going after our anchor tenants,” says Thompson. “We have two or three proposals out right now, and we're waiting for them to come back.”

Although Briarcliff Development Co. hasn't signed anchors yet, it hopes to attract retailers such as AnnTaylor and Talbot's. “Then they'll have co-tenants they want to go along with them, if we're successful,” Thompson adds.

In addition, she envisions the center will cater to its demographic base of home ownership. “We'll have a strong emphasis on home furnishings, along with shops for entertaining and gardening,” Thompson says. “Then, for dining, we'll have family-oriented and fine dining.”

Briarcliff Development Co. also will reach out into the community to find specialty retailers that aren't in the malls or elsewhere in the city. Retailers such as Mama Roe of Atlanta, a shop that offers Tuscan imports including fine table linens, fit the bill.

As Thompson says, “The nationals are wonderful and a lot of people want that, but we want a predominance of local shops, too — we're trying to fill the expectations of the community.”

From all reports, La Bella Vita will do so in beautiful fashion.

Carol Badaracco Padgett is an Atlanta-based writer.