The Wizard appears
Wonderful World of Oz CEO makes appearance in DeSoto
DeSoto residents at last met the wizard the man behind the curtain and the plan to bring the Wonderful World of Oz theme park and resort to DeSoto.
Robert Kory, president and chief executive officer of the Oz Entertainment Company, spoke publicly in DeSoto for the first time last Thursday at the chamber of commerce meeting, attended by about 75 members of the business community.
Kory said the time was right for him to meet the people of DeSoto, a town that would be greatly affected by the theme park's development.
"The reason I'm here only now is that only now am I ready to answer your questions," Kory said. "I want to earn the opportunity to be part of this community. A project like this can only be successful if it has the support of the community."
However, Kory stopped short of saying he would like for his proposed theme park to be annexed by DeSoto.
"I really want to move my family to Johnson County, not Anaheim, not Orlando and not Branson," he said. "My goal is to encourage the city of DeSoto, but also your friends in Olathe and Lenexa to get involved in the planning so we all preserve the nature of the area that makes this place so attractive.
"We want to give DeSoto a seat at the table and make sure DeSoto gets its fair share."
Kory then commended DeSoto Mayor Steve Prudden for his decision last month to ask the Kansas Legislature to pass legislation that would give the city the authority to issue sales-tax revenue bonds for development of the theme park. The proposal was eventually withdrawn by Prudden when it was learned that the legislation would release Oz officials from many of their obligations such as the payment of taxes to the DeSoto School District.
Kory said Prudden was looking out for his city's interest when he proposed the legislation. He added the state and county would be the big winners if Oz were to be built without annexation by DeSoto.
The state would receive close to $35 million in sales and property taxes and the county would receive between $5 million and $10 million, he said. Under the current legislation, DeSoto would stand to gain only about $250,000 from sewer and water-use contracts, he said.
"The legislation is not currently structured in a way to increase the revenue to DeSoto," Kory said. "If we're not part of the city, the impact will be lost."
Several people at the meeting wanted to know how Kory planned to deal with the increased amount of traffic the theme park would bring to the area.
Kory said his company is working with the Kansas Department of Transportation, encouraging officials to invest in infrastructure modifications. The current plan calls for K-10 to be the main route for incoming tourists.
"To avoid K-10 backup we are going to need a high-speed access 1 1/2 miles south of K-10," he said. "The highway also needs to continue to serve DeSoto. Our project cannot go forward unless KDOT agrees."
Once completed, Kory said, the highway plans would be presented to the public.
The chamber's scheduled speaker, County Commissioner Johnna Lingle, also had a few things to say about the proposed theme park. Lingle said the commission would be strict when it comes to any future development at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
"I can pledge to you and Robert that I'm watching," she said. "I've never said if I'm for or against it. I have serious reservations but I also have hope. But I assure you, I'm watching.
"Mom Lingle is here and I'm watching.