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Archive for Sunday, September 21, 2003

Company wants giant tornado as K.C. landmark

September 21, 2003

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— St. Louis has the Arch. Seattle has the Space Needle. New York has the Statue of Liberty.

And now Tom Overby wants to create a monument for his hometown of Kansas City, Kan.: a 650-foot-tall tornado -- 45 feet taller than the Space Needle, 20 feet taller than the Arch and 345 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty -- that would anchor a tourism district with a theme based on "The Wizard of Oz."

The giant tornado, said Overby, president of nonprofit development company Avenue Area Inc., "would be a state landmark," drawing at least a million people to the area each year.

Avenue Area, which has been working for years to fix up downtown Kansas City, Kan., hopes the tornado is exactly what the city needs.

Plans call for visitors to take an elevator to the top, where they could eat at a restaurant and enjoy the view.

"I think Kansas can really capitalize on using something that it's known for, and building a structure of this magnitude would certainly be a draw," Overby said.

As Overby envisions it, the area surrounding the tornado would include buildings made to look like they were destroyed by a twister. Inside those buildings would be gift shops. The base of the tornado would include a museum with information on the history and science of twisters.

And businesses around the monument could rename themselves to fit that theme. Overby's suggestions include Over the Rainbow Bar & Grill and the Emerald Inn.

Property owners support the plan.

Tom Overby points out highlights of his giant tornado in his office
in Kansas City, Kan. Overby hopes the tornado will become a state
landmark.

Tom Overby points out highlights of his giant tornado in his office in Kansas City, Kan. Overby hopes the tornado will become a state landmark.

"That would help all kinds of businesses in here," said Henry Jin, who owns a nightclub and rents several properties downtown.

But the twister is still far from becoming a reality.

Although Avenue Area has a history of working with government agencies to provide financing to small businesses, Overby said he wasn't looking for any government handouts.

He does want state and local government officials to endorse the idea, and said he planned to meet with the governor soon.

A site has not been chosen for the project, although Overby hopes to find one near the Kansas River.

No designs have been made public, other than a makeshift rendering the development company put together. Overby said it would be designed to withstand winds of up to 200 mph.

Overby expects the project to cost about $50 million. He said he has lined up investors who are willing to ante up millions of dollars for the project, but he won't disclose their identities or amounts until plans solidify.

Don Denney, a spokesman for the governments of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., has spoken with Overby about the project but is reserving judgment until state officials and local residents react.

"I think that it's obviously an off-the-wall concept," Denney said. "It definitely brings chuckles if not full-out laughter when people first hear about it, but I suppose the same thing was done when they first built the Arch."

There's a risk that the project could offend people who have suffered from tornadoes.

"I don't think that would be a problem. It's not a problem with me," said Paul Dary, whose 81-year-old brother, Ralph Dary, was the only Kansas City-area fatality during a spate of powerful May tornadoes that scoured the Midwest. "But it would be nice if they had a plaque" for victims.

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