Archive for Thursday, February 8, 2001

Oz presents new plan to commission

February 8, 2001

As promised, Oz Entertainment Co. has presented the Johnson County Commission with a new redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

And as promised, County Commissioner Susie Wolf said she would take the time she needs before casting the vote that will likely decide Oz's fate.

"I want to take a while to talk to a lot of people," she said. "I really don't feel any political pressure. I know I will make the right decision when I get all the information."

Commission Chairman Doug Wood suggested the commission might vote on the Oz proposal in March.

Last November, the commission deadlocked 2-2 over Oz's $861 million redevelopment proposal with Commissioner Gary Anderson abstaining because of a conflict of interest. Wolf subsequently replaced Oz opponent Johnna Lingle on the commission.

Over the next two weeks, Wolf and her fellow commissioners will have more to consider. Oz officials will discuss their proposal to the group during an 8:30 a.m. work session, Monday, Feb. 19, at the Johnson County Administration Building in Olathe.

That will be followed by an open-microphone forum hosted by the citizens' group Taxpayers Opposed To Oz Inc., scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Lexington Trails Middle School in DeSoto.

TOTO President Bill Sheldon said the forum would give Wolf an opportunity to hear alternative visions for Sunflower's future.

"It strikes us the public has never had the possibility to say I'd like 30 Ferris wheels or a museum for the World War II workers or a buffalo park," he said. "I'm sure we'll also hear form those who say Oz is the best use.

"That's okay. The object is not to bash Oz but to look beyond Oz. They're probably not going to be around anyway, so this would be a good way to go back to GSA and say this is who you need to talk with."

Oz's vision is depicted in a Sunflower master plan the company included in its new submittal. The master plan conforms to the Community in a Park land-use plan the Johnson County Planning Department developed three years ago.

The Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park's scope and financing remains the same in the new submittal. Part of the project's financing would be provided through $189 million in sales tax revenue bonds and $39 million in tax increment financing bonds. The state would issue, but not guarantee, the so-called STAR and TIF bonds.

However, the plan submitted last Thursday emphasizes future development at Sunflower more than past Oz redevelopment proposals.

Oz Chairman Robert Kory and the company's new CEO Dick Ferguson have stated they wanted to stress the benefits Oz would bring to the county. High on that list is the opportunity Oz would give the county to provide comprehensive planning for Sunflower's 9,065 acres.

The Oz master plan includes 2,571 acres of single-family residential development, 778 acres of mixed-use residential and commercial development and 638 acres of office and business park development. County planners estimated 30,000 residents would live on Sunflower when it was completely developed.

The county land-use plan reserved 2,000 acres in Sunflower's northeast corner for highway commercial and high technology office development. When the Oz entertainment and resort complex is completed, it would make use of 1,582 of that acreage.

But the commission will only be asked to approve Oz's phase I, stage I redevelopment proposal the theme park, hotel, golf course, recreational vehicle park and entertainment retail complex.

The side agreements Johnson County and Oz negotiated last fall are included in the new Oz proposal. Oz raised concern among commissioners last summer when it was revealed state law allowed the company to use sales tax revenue above than needed to retire STAR bonds to service privately placed debt.

One of the side agreements limits the use of the county's share of excess sales taxes collected within Sunflower to projects approved by the county commission.

Commissioner Wood said that and other side agreements address concerns that state and county tax monies are being used to finance the Oz project while the county received no tax benefit.

"In fact, the county will get revenue from day one," he said.

The payments in lieu of taxes Oz will provide the county for the TIF and revenue collected at Sunflower for the county's dedicated sales taxes will nearly equal the tax breaks the company receives, Wood said. He views the TIF and STAR bonds as a financing tool the company is using to obtain favorable interest rates based on the state and county's good credit rating.

According to a spreadsheet Oz provided with its new proposal, the $2.2 million the company will pay the county in fees and in-lieu payments during the first year of the theme park's construction will exceed the county's costs by $88,384. When Sunflower retail operations open and the county's dedicated storm-water, bi-state cultural and public safety sales taxes are collected, Oz's Sunflower development will contribute $3.24 million to county coffers an estimated $1.03 million more than the county's costs.

Oz projects construction starting this year and the theme park opening in 2003.

Wolf said Monday she would like to see the spreadsheet numbers verified. A complete verification is complicated because it would require a review of Oz's feasibility plan and projected attendance figures.

When Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh discussed such a review with the County Economic Research Institute task last year, she was told only three or four firms in the country could perform the review at the cost of $100,000 to $200,000.

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