Archive for Thursday, June 20, 2002

New Sunflower plan looks good at first glance

June 20, 2002

We share what seems to be the view of most state and local officials regarding the latest proposal for the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant: We like what we've seen so far.

Admittedly, the two new proposed Sunflower developers, Kessinger/Hunter and Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and Cherokee Investment Partners of Raleigh, N.C., haven't provided many details. But the transfer proposal as it is sketched out seems to address many of the basic flaws in Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment plan for Sunflower.

The positives start with the involvement of a respected local investor, something sorely missing in the Oz plan. Kessinger/Hunter is a local real estate developer with an extensive track record in the area. Its knowledge of local culture and politics should help it avoid the pratfalls Oz regularly fell onto. It can be assumed Kessinger/Hunter can't afford the same damage to its local reputation.

Those opposed to Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment proposal questioned whether the company had the experience and resources to pull off such a massive undertaking. With more than a decade of experience in brownfield redevelopment and its deep pockets, the same can't be said of Cherokee.

Neither Cherokee nor Kessinger/Hunter bring the baggage of past failures and false starts that plagued Oz and ultimately led to its demise.

Another positive aspect of the plan is it doesn't require state tax incentives to finance Sunflower's environmental cleanup. The partners are betting $50 million on the cleanup; the investors have an incentive to press ahead with the plant's development.

We can state with assurance the partners will follow through with the proposed public benefit transfers to the Johnson County Park District, Kansas University, K-State, the city of De Soto and the local school district because of the tax write-off the transfers would earn the developers.

Although Sunflower's redevelopment would provide an economic engine that would stimulate jobs and growth to the whole K-10 corridor, De Soto will be the chief benefactor of any development at the plant. It is our belief that it would provide exactly what the community needs: the addition of commercial and light industrial growth before residential development. That development pattern would release the community from the vise of supporting new schools with a residential tax base.

If the developers are true to their early promises to use the Johnson County master plan as a guideline to their development, the abandoned eyesore would become a planned community that would set the standard for future development in the corridor.

All the above listed positives help assure the new proposal a warm reception with state and local officials, especially after the Oz fiasco. But that failed venture left a good deal of resentment and suspicion in its wake.

To address that legacy, the developers need to follow up on their early promises to include the community in Sunflower's redevelopment. That means meeting with officials from De Soto, Eudora, Olathe, Johnson County and other jurisdictions, but also bringing neighbors and other concerned citizens to the table.

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