Archive for Thursday, August 4, 2005

City now in position to take advantage of SFAAP transfer

August 4, 2005

Apparently, the long-promised but often-delayed transfer of the Sunflower Army Ammunition plant to private hands is about to go forward. Sunflower Redevelopment LLC and government officials at various levels are putting the finishing touches on the remaining documents needed to transfer the plant to the developer, opening 6,000 acres directly south of De Soto to planned development.

For more than a decade, the ghost plant with its scores of abandoned buildings, deserted streets and long-silent production facilities mocked those in local government and economic development with its potential. They remembered what the plant had meant to the community during its dynamic heyday when excess of 20,000 employees walked through its gates every day to contribute to the effort that doomed fascism and in effect refounded De Soto.

For some time, it seemed as if that potential was the local focus -- as if nothing positive could be done until the plant was transferred. That thinking contributed to flirtation with the false promise of Oz Entertainment Co.

Perhaps out of frustration or grudging awareness of the pace of federal bureaucracy, that local outlook changed in the past few years. There was still engagement in the Sunflower transfer process -- a necessity because of the city's lease of the water plant -- but progress was made on many fronts.

City government moved ahead with long-range planning for land use and capital improvements. Citizens aided the effort with the approval of a 10-year sales tax that has already provided a community facelift and a bond issue for a new swimming pool that should strengthen a downtown already demonstrating new zest. The De Soto Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council recruited two important new industries to De Soto and undertook a number of initiatives and studies that were meant to answer challenges and position De Soto in the Kansas Highway 10 marketplace. And perhaps most significantly for the future, the city moved forward with a new sewer treatment plant that when completed early in 2007 will open new areas to development.

All the local activity means De Soto won't be playing catch up to events at Sunflower. The city is in position to offer key utilities of sewer and most likely water to portions of the plant. It exclusively controls the land use to the plant's gateway, property that with the completion of the sewer could become much more marketable than the still-contaminated plant.

That is an opportunity and a challenge. De Soto and Sunflower's developers would be best served if development in the gateway complimented what is in the plant. A shared vision is the key, but at this time the city has no authority within the plant. Promises have been made that this will be addressed.

It is in the interest of those who made those promises to follow through. De Soto, because of the progress of the past few years, will soon be eager to move with or without their approval.

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