Archive for Thursday, August 24, 2000

Opposition to Oz makes itself heard this week

August 24, 2000

After three meetings on the topic, two Johnson County Commissioners remain skeptical of Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

"Too vague," Commissioner Johnna Lingle Tuesday. "This is lacking in important areas, mainly infrastructure. The answers to when, how and who pays aren't there."

Commissioner Chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh repeated her reservations about granting Oz a property tax break in the form of tax increment financing (TIF) bonds.

"I've said from the beginning, I take a dim view on TIFs," she said. "You never say never, but I'll be a hard sale."

Local supporters of Oz's redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant were far outnumbered by opponents during a Monday night public hearing at DeSoto High.

About 170 people attended the public hearing hosted by the commission. The commission scheduled the meeting as it began consideration of Oz's redevelopment plan to build an $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort at Sunflower.

DeSoto Area Chamber of Commerce President Pat Atchison and two former DeSoto mayors spoke in favor of Oz's redevelopment plan and the agreements that would turn the mothballed ammunition plant over to Oz for the company's commitment to clean up an estimated $37.5 million worth of pollution.

But a large majority of those parading to the microphone Monday voiced opposition to the Oz proposal. The plant's neighbors were concerned about the effect of Oz's proposed $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort on their quality of life.

Theresa Jones, who lives just east of Sunflower, said the theme park would bring urban sprawl.

"Move the theme park to I-70; don't bring I-70 to the theme park," she said. "It will change the culture of the rural environment.

"(Oz CEO) Robert Kory said he would do everything possible to protect the area. That may be true, but he won't own K-10."

A theme park will bring fast-food restaurants and other strip development seeking to take advantage of the increased traffic on K-10, she said.

DeSoto City Councilwoman Linda Zindler said traffic would start to increase before the theme park opens. The redevelopment plan suggests 7,300 people will work at the plant during the construction phase.

As early as next year, there may be thousands of vehicles seeking to enter the plant every day, Zindler said. At that time, Sunflower's access will be limited to Lexington Avenue off K-10 and 95th Street and Sunflower Road, both unpaved.

"My comment is more of a question. Is there a local plan for access?" Zindler asked.

Other opponents questioned Oz's reliance on property and sales tax breaks to finance its development and the company's requests for publicly financed infrastructure improvements. The company's redevelopment plan calls for the Kansas Development Finance Authority to issue $189 million in Sales Tax Revenue Bonds - to be paid off with sales tax collected at theme park - and $39 million in Tax Increment Financing Bonds, which will be retired from money owed on property taxes.

Oz's redevelopment plan also assumes the state will provide a $29 million Kansas Highway 10 interchange that will connect to a $6 million to $12 million county-built road into the theme park.

Former Kansas Gov. John Anderson Jr. was loudly applauded when he said Oz ought to pay for its own development.

"I don't care if they build theme parks in all four corners of Johnson County," he said. "I am opposed to approaching this matter in a way that asks Johnson County taxpayers to lift them (Oz) up by the boot straps.

"Don't tax me to build an Oz building out there. Let them build it themselves."

Chuck Dehner connected the two objections. The low-wage jobs the theme park would create are not worthy of TIF bonds, he said.

Because of its location on K-10 and proximity to Kansas University, the county and state ought to be exploring the development of a "Prairie Technology Park" at Sunflower, Dehner said. Technology firms tend to build campus-like facilities in quiet, contemplative surroundings, he said. A theme park would not be conducive to that kind of development but would invite other low-wage ventures.

Speaking in favor of Oz, Atchison reminded the commission that the company's plan would buffer development in Sunflower with 2,500 acres of parks. The theme park itself would be buffered from K-10 by two golf courses, she said.

With as many as 10,800 new students coming to the DeSoto School System in the next five years, Atchison said the district desperately needs to expand and diversify its tax base.

Two former DeSoto mayors, Jim Beadle and T.C. Schmidt, expanded on that argument.

>From sitting in on Army meetings concerning the remediation of Sunflower and other Defense Department properties, Beadle said he is convinced the Oz proposal offers the only opportunity to get Sunflower's 9,065 acres cleaned up and on the tax rolls in the foreseeable future.

The reason, he said, is that Johnson County is too affluent for Sunflower to score high on the Army's remediation scoring system.

As they did in the past, Sunflower's 9,065 acres hold the key to DeSoto's future, Schmidt.

"I think this project is larger than Oz," he said. "It's how the 9,000 acres will be developed.

"I was here when Sunflower was booming. There was more traffic on Main Street than there is on K-10 at this time. I would like to see some of that come back."

The commission will have another public hearing at 7 p.m., tonight, at Shawnee Mission South High School, 5800 W. 107th Street, Overland Park. Residents have until 5 p.m., Sept. 8 to submit written comments.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.