Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2000

County seeks Oz answers

August 31, 2000

Johnson County Commissioner Johnna Lingle said she wants Oz Entertainment Co. representatives to provide answers today concerning their infrastructure plans for the companys proposed development at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Commissioners will question Oz officials about its redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant at a 1:30 p.m. work session at the County Administration Building in Olathe.

As commissioners prepared for the work session, Oz provided a 16-page response to questions raised by Johnson County Counselor Don Jarrett.

In an executive summary prepared by the county counselor and his staff, Jarrett listed 24 questions concerning Ozs redevelopment plan for Sunflower and the agreements the company negotiated with federal and state agencies governing the plants transfer and cleanup.

Jarretts questions concerned such things as Ozs infrastructure plans, the future annexation of Sunflower, Ozs use of revenue garnered from tax increment financing (TIF) bonds and the use of tax increment financing to fund projects beyond the $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort.

After reading the companys response, Lingle said she wants more information on Ozs plans to bring infrastructure to the theme park. Her concerns include the $29 million Kansas Highway 10 interchange that would serve the theme park, as well as water and sewer utilities, Lingle said.

All three of those are very expensive, she said. How are they going to be paid for? We need to have answers better than if you approve it, well find out.

It is very unlikely, Lingle said, that the needed infrastructure improvement could be in place by 2003 X the year Oz hopes to open the theme park.

All of those things take a long time to put in place, she said. Nobody gets an interchange built in three years. Even if they do have funding for it.

Earlier this month, the Kansas Department of Transportation released a list of projects to be funded by the states 10-year transportation program. The list passed over a request the city of DeSoto made for the K-10 interchange.

Subsequently, Oz representatives approached KDOT about a design-build concept, in which Ozs contractors would complete the design and construction of the interchange on behave of KDOT. In the response to Jarretts question on the interchange issue, Oz reported the design-build suggestion was favorably received by KDOT, but added the department will not discuss the matter further until Ozs redevelopment plan wins the approval of the county and the Kansas Development Finance Authority.

State Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner, said he spoke to KDOT Secretary E. Dean Carlson about the interchange earlier this month. Ballou said the secretary told him the department agreed to Ozs plan to provide planning of the interchange.

The design-build concept doesnt provide funding, and Wonderful World of Oz President Skip Palmer said he last he doesnt have one penny in my budget for an interchange.

Ballou, who opposes the Oz project and spoke out against it at the Aug. 21 public hearing in DeSoto, said he believes KDOT will find a way to fund the interchange should the county and finance authority approve the redevelopment plan.

However, KDOT spokesman Marty Matthews gave a much more guarded response to the Explorer.

As Secretary Carlson said Aug. 4, we dont want to build an interchange that isnt needed. But if the theme park is approved and it is needed, then tell us how to fund it, Matthews said.

You never say never - things change. But right now, we have no money for that interchange.

But even if funding is found for the interchange, it remains questionable if it could be completed before 2003.

When he announced the projects that the transportation program would fund, Carlson said it would be seven years before work began on the improvements. It takes that long to acquire right of way and complete needed environmental impact studies.

The interchange serving the Wyandotte County NASCAR track moved quicker, but Carlson said in that case KDOT and the Kansas Turnpike Authority already owned the needed land.

Jarrett also asked Oz to clarify the cost of the access road the company wants the county to build. The road from K-10 to the theme park is variously estimated to cost from $6 million to $12 million in the redevelopment plan.

The Oz response explains the roads cost depends on its final alignment and its specifications. A two-lane road with no dam to backup the theme parks central lake would cost $6 million. A more ambitious four-lane road that included a dam and landscaping would cost $13.2 million.

As for water, Oz states in its response it plans to purchase approximately 2.5 million gallons of water a day from DeSoto. The water will come from the water treatment plant the city is now operating at Sunflower.

Oz acknowledges the plant, built in 1972, will have to be upgraded and states its water purchasing agreement with DeSoto will provide the bonding capacity necessary for the city to upgrade the existing system, construct a new water tower and remove the old ones.

Oz has introduced the city to Unicom Thermal Technologies, a contractor capable of improving and operating the water treatment plant.

Unicom has also been retained to design and build the theme parks sewer system, Ozs response reported.

The system would be a pre-engineered and custom designed aerobic system that could handle 1.6 million gallon a day. It would be constructed beside the 60-year-old existing sewer plant on Sunflowers east side. It would be removed when Johnson County brings sewers to the plant, the Oz response said.

Jarrett also asked Oz to comment on any plans DeSoto or other cities might have to annex Sunflower, particularly in light of a provision within the Sunflower conveyance agreement that states the Army and U.S. General Services Administration will cooperate with Oz on any petition for annexation.

Ozs response states the company will continue the positive interaction it has developed with the commissioners and county planning staff. While Oz has no current plans for annexation and no discussions are in progress, the response states that at some time annexation will make sense.

Finally, Oz was asked if tax increment financing - the use of bonds retired with money otherwise owed for property taxes - would be used to help finance future development at Sunflower, including a hotel and entertainment retail center that will open with the theme park.

In its response, Oz states it will conduct a competitive review of hotel and entertainment retail developers once the redevelopment plan is approved.

It is assumed TIF bonds would be available to those ventures and all future development within Sunflower, the Oz response states. The Kansas Legislature provided that development tool in the 1998 and 1999 statutes that allow the creation of a redevelopment district within Sunflower.

Ozs obligation to clean Sunflower and its required purchase of bonding and insurance that guarantee the environmental remediation makes it essential that the redevelopment business incentives be fully available for future development, the report states.

That certainly isnt a positive in my mind, said Johnson County Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh. Ive said from the beginning I take a dim view of TIFs, but that you never say never. Ill be a hard sell.

The possibility for more TIFs, makes me a harder sell.

Surbaugh and Lingle said they hope the commission can make a decision on the Oz redevelopment plan by the end of the year.

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