TOTO’s Burger claims county lacking vision
Johnson County needs a grander vision for the development of the closed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant than that offered by county government, the president of Taxpayers Offering Tomorrow's Opportunities told the De Soto Chamber of Commerce last week.
Speaking at the monthly gathering of the De Soto Chamber last Thursday, TOTO President Micheline Burger said the Johnson County Commission's decision was a mistake.
As Taxpay-ers Opposed to Oz, TOTO successfully organized opposition to Oz Entertainment Co.'s redevelopment plan for the 9,065-acre plant that included the Wonderful World of Oz Theme Park.
The county is currently negotiating the purchase of Sunflower with the Army and the U.S. General Services Administration. Earlier this month, the County Commission agreed to start negotiating the plant's sale to Kessinger/Hunter and Co. of Kansas City, Mo. At the same time, the Commission agreed other developers had until Nov. 15 to make their interest in Sunflower known.
Meanwhile, the county has received a six-page letter from Kessinger/Hunter's Charles Hunter expressing that companies interest in acquiring Sunflower from the county and developing it along the Community in a Park land-use plan the County Commission adopted in 1998.
Burger said that plan and the 25,000 residents it included lacked vision.
"It's the same development model you see in Overland Park and the southern part of the county," she said. "There's nothing inherently wrong with that model of development.
"We at TOTO believe we have wonderful opportunity tdo something really special at Sunflower and not just replicate residential patterns you see everywhere in the county."
TOTO's vision was to replicate the North Carolina's Research Triangle Park at Sunflower, Burger said. The North Carolina park was started in 1956 and now provides 45,000 jobs with an average salary was $54,000, she said. There is more than a $2 billion capital investment in the former pine forest, she said.
One of the appeals of the North Carolina research park was that tenants such as IBM, Cisco Systems and DuPont have built campus-like research complexes that integrate with the preserved park space, Burger said. Eighty-five percent of the 7,000-acre research park was open space, she said.
Citing a 1986 state-funded study that found the creation of research and development opportunities with links to the business community would greatly enhance economic development in Kansas, Burger called for a public-private partnership that would attract the same kind of corporate heavy hitters to Sunflower in cooperation with the state's regent schools and Johnson County Community College. Kansas University and Kansas State already had a presence at the plant, she said.
Residents could still influence the County Commission's actions, particularly the role of the proposed Sunflower Redevelopment Authority, Burger said. A bill passed in the Kansas Legislature last spring gave the Johnson County Commission the authority to create and redevelop such a board to guide Sunflower development. The County Commission agreed such a board needed to be named but wanted further discussion of its role before appointing members.
"I sincerely believe citizen input can have a real influence on what this redevelopment authority looks like," Burger said. "If you have some ideas, you need to let the County Commission know."
Burger wasn't alone in insisting the county put Sunflower up for formal bids and naming a redevelopment authority with the purpose of making real decisions, including eventual developers.
State Rep. Rob Boyer, State Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe and chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, said although she was happy the County Commission was open to hearing from other developers, it would be best for the county to go through a formal request for the proposals process.
TOTO is not without allies in their push for the research park. Chief among those voicing support is Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who must sign a document, called a finding of suitability for early transfer, if Sunflower is to be transferred from federal hands before its environmental remediation is complete.
When Sebelius signed a preliminary draft of that finding in July, she encouraged Kessinger/Hunter and other interested developers to reserve a "significant portion" of Sunflower as a research park.