Archive for Thursday, March 16, 2000

Oz: Two hurdles to clear

March 16, 2000

Representatives of the Oz Entertainment Company are ready to take on the final two hurdles on their way to opening the Wonderful World of Oz theme park and resort near DeSoto.

Oz Entertainment President Skip Palmer said company attorneys are "in the process of assembling the forms for final review by all agencies at the state and federal level." Palmer said he expects the paperwork to be ready by Thursday.

Once completed, a copy will be forwarded to the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, Palmer said.

The entertainment group is negotiating a deal with the United States Army and the United States General Services Administration for the transfer of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant to the company for a commitment by its representatives to clean up the contaminated land. According to the Oz proposal, the theme park would be located on the northeast corner of the 9,000-acre plant.

Palmer said two things are needed: an affirmative vote by the Johnson County Commission and approval of the plan by the Kansas Department of Finance Authority.

He hopes to hear from the KDFA board by early April. As for the county commission, Palmer said, he will have to wait for its members to set a date for a formal presentation.

"I will probably take the paperwork there myself on Thursday," he said. "Then we'll have to wait to hear from the commission."

County officials earned a voice in the matter last year after state lawmakers amended legislation to allow the state to issue state tax revenue bonds for the project. Commission members successfully lobbied the state legislature at that time for the right to approve or reject any development plan.

County Commissioner Johnna Lingle does not expect the review process to be a quick one.

Lingle said the ammunition plant will be zoned for agricultural use and Oz developers will have to request a conditional-use permit to build the theme park. That permit will be issued only after stringent review by the commission, Lingle said.

"We plan to be very strict," Lingle told DeSoto Chamber of Commerce members last week during their monthly luncheon. "We can always go back and make it more lenient. From my experience, I have never found the county has had success in starting out lenient and going back and making regulations more stringent."

The Olathe Daily News reported Tuesday that State Rep. John Ballou (R-Dist.43) of Gardner will try to repeal the legislation allowing Kansas to issue revenue bonds for development at the ammunition plant.

Ballou said the Legislative Revisors Office would, at his request, write an amendment repealing the legislation. Since the deadline to submit new bills has passed, the repeal would have to be attached to a bill already making its way through a House subcommittee, Ballou said.

If the repeal made it through the house and the senate and was signed by Gov. Bill Graves, it would cut off funding for the Oz project. The congressman conceded that would be unlikely.

Ballou vowed to repeal the legislation last month after DeSoto Mayor Steve Prudden submitted a bill to a house sub committee that would allow his city to issue bonds for the project. Prudden pulled the proposal before it made it to the committee after the state revisors office said it would release the Oz Entertainment Company from many of its obligations, including the payment of school taxes.

Ballou said he believed Oz officials were behind Prudden's proposal. Prudden said he was acting on his own at them time.

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