Oz needs to pay up, move forward
It's too bad the people at Oz Entertainment Co. are so intent on destroying their chances of ever building a theme park at the closed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. Judging from their conception of reality, they could create a wonderful fantasyland.
It's not like Oz hasn't been introduced to the realities of the local political landscape. Twice the company has sought the approval of the Johnson County Commission, which it must have before it can move forward with its $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort. Twice it has failed to get the support of the majority of commissioners.
Oz's strategy now should be to get Johnson County's planned feasibility study of its financial plan started as soon as possible. Instead, Oz has spent the last week engaging in a search-and-destroy mission of its credibility over the Wyandotte County issue.
At issue is Oz's sudden contention that the $550,000 it received from Wyandotte County was a grant, not a loan. The money, $150,000 from the county and $400,000 from the Wyandotte County Board of Public Utilities, was used to pay for a feasibility study when Oz was considering building its theme park in that county.
Last week, Oz asked Attorney General Carla Stovall to rule on the nature of that grant, contending that the Kansas Legislature can't make a grant into a debt by legislative fiat. Interestingly, Oz never argued this point in the statehouse in 1998 or 1999 when the legislature passed bills enabling Sunflower's redevelopment, which contained the repayment provision. When that enabling legislation was extended last spring, Oz told the county the repayment provision would not be a problem.
Johnson County Commissioner Doug Wood, who has expended considerable political capital in supporting the Oz redevelopment plan, has rightly told Oz to put the needed money in escrow so that the county can move forward with its planned feasibility study of Oz's financial plan. He has told Oz that if the company waits until Stovall makes her decision sometime in September, the county will likely not vote on the Oz proposal until 2002, a year that will see county voters select four commission seats.
It was never possible the commission's decision would be free of political considerations. But given the level of opposition in the county, Oz's best hope was that the county's feasibility study would give commissioners enough positive information on the merits of the proposal to sway commissioners. But the longer the decision is delayed, the more politically charged it will become.
Oz may very well have cost itself any chance of winning the county's approval last week, and perhaps justifiably so. But for its own interests and those of the county, city of De Soto and the school district, Oz needs to move forward as soon as possible.
Given its inability to make positive public relations moves, it also ought to consider hiring a new public relations firm as well.