The challenges at Zona Rosa are perplexing

Sports are not the only thing worth rooting for. Maybe age makes me more resistant to change, but I find myself rooting for businesses that have served me well. I’m not always backing a sure winner. I see small local businesses like the farm supply store or my one-man-auto repair shop competing against chains with lots of stuff but not things I need or trustworthy and reliable service. Sometimes I even back a big business getting zapped by the bigger businesses.

In this case, I was disappointed to reach the story about the financial struggles of the Zona Rosa shopping district. A story in The Kansas City Star in March outlined the details. The story told of a mortgage default by Zona Rosa’s owners, dropping occupancy rates for business buildings, a failure to obtain a new $500,000 letter of credit, and the possibility of Platte County taxpayers possibly having to cover debt shortfalls later this year. The county’s responsibilities involve a 2007 backing of bonds for a parking garage.

I’ll leave it to lawyers, bankers, and Platte County leaders to sort those issues out. I’m just a fan rooting for a business. I have no ties to Zona Rosa other than being a now-and-then shopper. I don’t know the distant owners. I did have a conversation on the telephone years ago with the heir to the land where the center was built when he was working for zoning approvals. But my approach when the district opened in 2004 was detachment, because I figured development was inevitable for land so near the intersection of Interstate 29 and Barry Road. At the time it was the most important crossroads in northern Platte County.

Zona Rosa was a bold step in a county that had far fewer houses and jobs then than it does now. That, I suppose, was part of the plan. The Star story said the district has been on and off the market for sale. I suspect the sales pitch now would be all the housing planned and under development east of I-29 and north of Barry Road. But then again, who knows what competition will be built where? In 2004, I was ordering boots and shirts from L.L. Bean via a paper catalog and land line telephone. I would never have predicted people ordering groceries, pizzas and darn near anything on their cell phone for delivery to their front door.

I have heard people criticize Zona Rosa for not being original enough in design. But I became a fan because the district was a big step up from strip shopping center blandness. No, it wasn’t like the old downtowns of Weston or Parkville or Kansas City south of the Broadway Bridge. But it wasn’t acres of asphalt surrounding a fortress, either. Some valued stores were suddenly closer to home, like the Barnes and Noble book store.

Zona Rosa has tried to connect with Platte County’s heart, too. I suppose business and profit are primary motivators. Still, the district has stepped up beyond what was required or even expected. Zona Rosa has held festivals and holiday events in the district, supported the Platte County Fair, and probably other things I haven’t tracked.

Some businesses there that I’ve enjoyed have come and gone. I was a fan of the Ted Turner restaurant with real food, good music and regular guy décor. It died early. Heaven knows we could use more entertainment in the county. By the way, if you know of good live music venues in Platte County let me know and I’ll trumpet them in this column. A friend and I struck out on finding decent Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day. There is a void.

I’m surprised at Zona Rosa’s challenges. Perhaps the county’s population just isn’t big enough yet for business to stand the rents and other costs that go with modern buildings, plus employee wages, insurance, fees, taxes and the complications that cause enterprises to fail or succeed. Business can be a complicated stew. A friend of mine moved his business into a place I thought was doomed to fail and instead he’s thriving.

All I can do is choose wisely where I spend my dime. Often that has to do with need and budget. But sometimes, I’ll spend an extra dime to support a local business that has served me well.


Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at