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Posted on Fri, May. 31, 2002

CITYSCAPE: Threatt-Paradies team to bring more shops to KCI
 

By JOYCE SMITH

Columnist


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 one.

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 contract.

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," he said.

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