New Oz CEO makes his DeSoto debut
Ferguson says his mission is to move project into next phase
Oz Entertainment Co.'s new interim CEO told members of the DeSoto Chamber of Commerce last Thursday he was named to that position to move the company's Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park from its developmental to operational phase.
Dick Ferguson, who was named Oz's new CEO last month, addressed the Chamber during its monthly meeting. The gathering was at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, which Oz hopes to acquire from the federal government.
Ferguson said he knew nothing about the project until shortly before he succeeded Robert Kory as Oz CEO.
"I never heard of the Oz theme park until six months ago," Ferguson said. "Since then, it has consumed me. It is one of the most exciting and dramatic proposals I have ever seen."
Ferguson was named to the post shortly after Oz's $861 million redevelopment plan for Sunflower failed to win the Johnson County Commission's needed approval. However, the commission's 2-2 deadlock only tabled the proposal, and Oz promised to bring the plan back to the commission.
The company and the federal government completed a draft agreement last summer that would transfer the plant to Oz for the company's commitment to clean up solid waste contamination. The county and Kansas Development Finance Authority must approve a Sunflower redevelopment plan before the transfer can occur.
"We are in the process of developing a strategic plan to win the county and state's approval," Ferguson said. The plan will emphasize the benefits the project brings to DeSoto, county and state and "take some of the focus away from things that have been talked about too much," he said.
Ferguson said he has met with about 150 area civic and community leaders over the last month. While he has found little consensus on why the project failed to win the commission's approval, Ferguson said many remained supportive of the Oz plan.
Oz would like to present its proposal to the county and restart the approval process "sooner than later," but Ferguson said the commission would decide how and when the process proceeds.
"We're sort of going at their pace and letting them drive that process," he said. Again, he said Oz's job was to educate officials and the public of the project's benefits. Those include the cleanup and controlled development of Sunflower, Ferguson said.
The benefits continue to evolve, Ferguson said. Possible new technical and educational benefits have developed within the last six months, he said.
Oz won't limit its focus on the county, Ferguson said.
"I'll keep an eye on Topeka to make sure we don't get derailed there," he said.
Oz's biggest foe in the Kansas Legislature may be Rep. John Ballou, who represents DeSoto in the Kansas House.
Ballou said Monday he has met with Ferguson and believes the new Oz CEO would help the company's cause in Topeka.
"He comes across as direct and business like," the Gardner Republican said. "I think he'll be able to get things done over here."
As promised, Ballou said he has introduced a bill that would restrict the use of sales taxes collected in state-sanctioned redevelopment districts such as the one Oz proposes for Sunflower to paying off sales tax revenue bonds. Oz officials have said they would reserve the right to use some of that revenue for retiring privately placed debt.
If Ballou's bill is to apply to the Oz project, it must be signed by the governor and placed in the legislative registry before the county and state approves Oz's redevelopment plan, Ballou said. But the representative said the legislators might exempt Oz even if they agree with the bill's proposal.
"It's not directed at Oz, but at the public policy of allowing the use of taxes to pay off private debt," Ballou said of his bill. "I think I have a lot of support from legislators who agree with me as a public policy issue, but a lot of them may say 'Oz developed their plan counting on this, so let them have it.'"
Similarly, Ballou said the Oz project is not likely to fail just because of the July 1 sunset deadline of Sunflower redevelopment legislation.
"The Legislature would probably give them an extension if the county has approved the plan and all they're waiting on is the KDFA," he said.