Archive for Thursday, September 27, 2001

County commission approves review of Oz financial plan

September 27, 2001

The Johnson County Commission decided to go forward with a review of Oz Entertainment Co.'s $861 million redevelopment plan for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant soon after learning of yet another potential complication in the closed plant's transfer.

The decision came after an executive session last Thursday. Commission Chairman Doug Wood said Tuesday the commission was told by county counselor Don Jarrett that Oz had met the stipulations the commission established in August. Those stipulations required Oz to satisfy Wyandotte County demands regarding a disputed loan totaling $550,000.

Wood said the decision was made soon after the county learned the Shawnee Tribe had filed a claim with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the closed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. (See related story, Page 4B.)

The commission has twice failed to approve Oz's redevelopment plan when it deadlocked 2-2. After the last vote in March, Commissioner Annabeth Surbaugh requested the independent review of the Oz plan, saying she had no reason to reconsider her opposition to the redevelopment proposal without it.

Surbaugh repeated Tuesday that she is open to changing her vote as a result of the $168,000 study, but added that Oz added to her concerns.

"I certainly will be looking at the study with a great deal of scrutiny as a result of the Wyandotte County check incident," she said.

Oz has fences to mend with at least one former supporter if it is to gain approval on what all are promising will be the last time the commission will consider the redevelopment plan.

Wood said he would vote against the Oz redevelopment proposal if it came up for a vote today. To get his vote, he said Oz would have to convince the Johnson County business community and public that it is a good corporate citizen.

Concrete ways to do that would be to attract an experienced developer for the hotel that is vital for the theme park's success and a viable local or regional developer to partner in Oz plans for further residential and commercial development at Sunflower, Wood said.

If the commission is to reconsider the Oz proposal again this year, the feasibility study will have to be completed by mid-November, Wood said. As commission chair, he would request a public hearing on the study and 30-day public response period.

"I won't schedule a vote one week before or after Christmas," he said. "In all likelihood, we're looking at a decision next year."

State Rep. John Ballou, R-Gardner, and Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who doubles as director of the Kansas Department of Housing and Commerce, have asked Attorney General Carla Stovall for an opinion on whether Oz agreements with Wyandotte County satisfy stipulations the Legislature wrote into the legislation extending redevelopment incentives for Sunflower.

The legislation required Oz to repay Wyandotte County $550,000 the company received for feasibility studies the company did when it was considering locating its theme park in that county.

Oz subsequently asked Stovall to rule on legality of the legislation. The company maintains the money was given to it as a grant and it can't be changed to a loan by legislation. Soon after that request, Oz stopped payment on a $150,000 check it sent to Wyandotte County Unified Government.

The move brought condemnation from Wyandotte and Johnson county officials, state legislators and former Oz supporters. Oz eventually paid the disputed sum to Wyandotte County and has reached an agreement with BPU that would forgive $400,000 owed in return for a contract to buy power for the theme park and resort from BPU.

But that didn't remove the attorney general's obligation to issue an opinion on the matter. Mark Ohlemeier, public information officer for the Kansas Attorney General's Office, said an opinion is expected soon.

"It is my understanding it should be coming soon," he said. "Whether that will be today, tomorrow or next week, I can't tell you, but it is being finalized."

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