When local entrepreneur Elliott Threatt would travel to different
cities across the country he would take note of the airport
shops he liked most.
Although the shops operated under different
names, such as Brooks Brothers and PGA Tour Shops, most were
owned by The Paradies Shops of Atlanta -- the same company that
operates eight shops at Kansas City International Airport.
Now, as KCI is undergoing a $218 million renovation,
Paradies will expand its presence there and has taken on Threatt
as a partner.
Paradies operates about 300 stores in 56 U.S.
airports and two Canadian airports. It will own 80 percent of
Paradies Kansas City LLC, which will oversee 15 shops at KCI.
Threatt and his wife, Kathryn, will own 20 percent but will
have equal voting rights with Paradies in all decisions.
Over the years, Elliott Threatt has been something
of a triple threat in the Kansas City area -- operating several
GNC stores, doing stand-up comedy and seeing city government
firsthand as the son of James I. Threatt, who was assistant
city manager for more than 20 years.
"We're just excited to be associated with
Elliott and Kathryn," said Gregg Paradies, chief executive
officer of The Paradies Shops. "They are two proven retailers
who understand the business and are willing to work hard to
make it successful."
Kansas City officials had wanted to expand the
number of airport shops to 15 and to have a local flavor at
the airport, a demand Paradies has tried to meet at other airports.
The new shops Paradies is bringing to KCI:
• Three Kansas City Marketplace stores
-- one in each terminal. They will offer Kansas City products
from local vendors -- from salsas to souvenirs to T-shirts to
City of Fountains bottled water.
• Plaza Books in Terminal B, a bookstore
and newsstand with special sections on local-interest books,
including books by Kansas City authors and compact discs by
Ida McBeth and David Basse.
• A PGA Tour Shop, also in Terminal B,
with golfing apparel, clubs and jewelry.
• Ten CNBC News Store locations -- at
least three in each terminal -- with newspapers, magazines and
products with CNBC logos such as cups, videos and T-shirts.
Monitors will be turned to CNBC, a cable TV financial channel,
and there will be two stock ticker displays, one with quotes
on Sprint, Applebee's and other Kansas City businesses. According
to CNBC's demographics, Kansas City is a strong market.
Stores opening this year will include two CNBC
stores, the PGA shop and one Kansas City Marketplace. The rest
of the stores will open in the next two to three years. They
will have about 125 employees.
As the 15 stores are phased in, the eight current
shops will be phased out. Paradies estimated the current shops'
annual revenue at $220 million.
Threatt opened his first business, a Merry Maids
franchise, in 1988 in Lawrence. He later owned GNC stores in
several cities, including Salina and Lawrence. The Lawrence
store was so successful the corporation bought it back. He still
owns GNC stores in Lee's Summit, Westport and Brookside.
Threatt also has been a regular at comedy clubs
for two decades. After a performance, people often tell him
they know his brother, the businessman. Or when he's in his
shops, they tell him they know his brother, the comedian.
"People get confused: Are you a comedian
or a businessman?" Threatt said. "It's very easy to
keep them separate when I'm on the road. I've been around so
long I think people know I do both."
Threatt was at an international airport conference
in Montreal on Sept. 11. Members of the group chartered a bus
back to their cities, and Threatt had an opportunity to quiz
folks on the ride about airport shops.
"It was a great education for me,"
Threatt said. "I learned so much more than I would have
at the convention because we had time to sit and talk."
Although Paradies had had the KCI contract since
1992, the city decided to rebid the contract as part of the
airport renovation. The fight over the new contract was a nasty
City law requires a percentage of minority participation
for contracts, and Denise Gilmore had managed two of the KCI
shops as Paradies' minority subcontractor. But Gilmore and Paradies
parted ways during the bidding process. That's when Paradies
hooked up with Threatt.
Eventually, the Kansas City Council awarded
a 10-year contract to Paradies, saying its proposal was more
imaginative and promising than that of its main rival, a New
Jersey company that promised the city more guaranteed revenue
from the shops.
Several local black leaders protested the contract
award, saying Gilmore was being treated unfairly and the process
was biased. When a city audit didn't sustain that claim, Gilmore's
supporters collected petitions to call for a referendum on the
City officials rejected the petition because
it did not include some required legal language, and the new
contract with Paradies took effect.
Because of his father's work in the city manager's
office, Threatt said, he is familiar with city politics.
"I'm used to how the whole thing works,"