Archive for Thursday, January 4, 2001

Oz tops list of 2000 stories

An eventful year in the land of Oz

January 4, 2001

Editor's note: So many stories were written about the proposed development in 2000, it was difficult to choose just one. The following is a recap of significant developments.

Oz Entertainment Co. grabbed a year's worth of headlines as it continued its three-year quest to acquire the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. With Oz preparing to take its proposal back before the Johnson County Commission, the issue is sure to be back in the news in 2001.

Last February, a proposal surfaced in Topeka that would have amended state legislation governing the redevelopment of closed military installations like Sunflower. The legislation would have given cities the right to issue sales tax revenue bonds.

Oz Entertainment Co. President Robert Kory and Oz board member Jo
Bourjaily react as it bcame clear the Johnson County Commission
would not approve the company's redevelopment plan for the
Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Oz Entertainment Co. President Robert Kory and Oz board member Jo Bourjaily react as it bcame clear the Johnson County Commission would not approve the company's redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

Oz's redevelopment plan calls for the state to issue $189 million of the so-called STAR bonds to help finance the $861 million Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park and Resort the company wants to build at Sunflower.

The February proposal got a chilly reception in Topeka, where it raised suspicions that Oz was trying to bypass the oversights existing legislation gave Johnson County and the state. The fears were heightened when the Legislative reviser released an opinion stating the bill would do just that.

On a day the proposal was to be formally introduced, DeSoto Mayor Steve Prudden released a statement saying he was withdrawing the proposal he initiated.

However, state Rep. John Ballou, who represents DeSoto in the Kansas House, continued to blame Oz, and in March the Gardner Republican led an unsuccessful attempt to repeal the Sunflower redevelopment legislation.

In what may yet turn out to be the most significant Sunflower development of the year, Oz reached agreement with the state and federal government on documents governing the cleanup and transfer of the closed plant. The first-of-their-kind documents released in June included a transfer agreement with the Army and a consent agreement between Oz and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that spelled out when and how Sunflower would be remediated.

The agreements committed Oz to cleaning up $37 million of solid waste contamination. Oz agreed to guarantee the cleanup commitment with $400 million worth of performance bonds and insurance.

The transfer is contingent on the Johnson County Commission and Kansas Development Finance Authority approving Oz redevelopment plans for Sunflower. Soon after the release of the agreements, Oz presented its redevelopment agreement to the county and state.

At one of the many workshops and public hearings the county commission scheduled on the redevelopment plan during the late summer and early fall, it was learned Oz reserved the right to use excess sales taxes it collected within Sunflower to retiring privately placed debt.

Partly because of concern for the sales tax "cash trap," Oz's redevelopment plan failed to win the commission's approval. But, the Nov. 6 vote didn't kill the proposal. With Commissioner Gary Anderson abstaining because of his law firm's association with the Kansas Development Finance Authority, the commission deadlocked 2-2 over the Oz plan.

Oz Chairman Robert Kory has indicated the company would bring the proposal back to a new county commission this month. Oz opponent Commissioner Johnna Lingle was defeated in her re-election bid by Susie Wolf during the August GOP primary.

To help prepare for the renewed effort, Kory stepped down as Oz CEO in December. He was replaced by Dick Ferguson, a man with past advertising and marketing executive-level experience

Meanwhile, Ballou is promising to introduce legislation next month that would limit the use of sales tax revenue collected within a Sunflower redevelopment district to retiring STAR bonds.

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