Archive for Thursday, May 4, 2006

City awaits soccer complex decision

STAR bond limitations could remove Johnson County cities from consideration

May 4, 2006

The phone call De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson was anticipating Monday has yet to come, but he is still hopeful De Soto will be the future home of the Kansas City Wizards.

De Soto is one of three Johnson County cities the Hunt Sports Group and Major League Soccer are still considering as the home of the Kansas City Wizards. De Soto, Gardner and Olathe were invited to submit follow-up proposals after six county cities submitted proposals in March for a site that would include a 20,000-seat stadium, 17 championship-level youth soccer fields and 30 to 50 acres for associated retail development. The project is said to have a price tag of from $89 million to $125 million.

Anderson and De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said when the expanded proposal was presented, MLS consultant Bobby Davidson said the city could expect to hear something May 1. But Anderson and Guilfoyle said they didn't take that to be a "hard deadline."

"My take is May 1 was a target date," Guilfoyle said. "Given the scope of this project, we understand sometimes that means on or about that date."

Anderson said the deadline came just after the NFL draft, which was likely to occupy Kansas City Chiefs and Wizards owner Lamar Hunt's attention.

Another reason for the delay could be a late request the Kansas Legislature make sales tax revenue bonds, so-called STAR bonds, more applicable to the project, Anderson said. Current state law would allow cities to use STAR bonds to build a stadium, but once built it could not be leased to a team or other private entity.

To avoid a possible deal killer, Olathe city officials have asked the Legislature to modify STAR bond legislation so the winning city could lease the stadium to a professional team.

Lawmakers cool to change

Anderson said Gary Anderson, a former Johnson County commissioner and Kansas senator who serves as bond counsel for both De Soto and Olathe, informed him of the need to make the change. That Olathe was taking the lead in the legislative effort shouldn't be viewed a signal the city had the inside track to land the stadium, the De Soto mayor said.

"The change is needed if any city is to build the stadium," he said.

Sen. Karin Brownlee, who sits on the Senate Economic Development Committee that is considering the request, said committee members weren't receptive to the change.

The cool response was partly the timing of the request in the veto session, but Brownlee said committee members weren't anxious to change what they see as a well-crafted universal STAR bond measure that all cities could use.

"Since we've done that, we've had repeated requests to change the law," the Olathe Republican said. "And they come to us asking for a little tweak. At least let us build a building.

"That's a huge change. Our position is you don't use STAR bonds to build buildings."

STAR bonds can be used for nearly every expense, from landscaping to extending sewers, in an approved project up to 50 percent of its total cost, Brownlee said. But she said their use for buildings was excluded to ensure developers had a reasonable stake in projects.

"That's what's concerning us as these projects come forward," she said. "There was one project put forward where 75 percent of the cost would be public money. That's not a private project.

"If developers don't want to assume the risk, why do they assume it should be picked up by local governments?"

The strength of De Soto's proposal is the presence of relatively cheap, flat land the complex would need, the availability of water for irrigation and the site's proximity to Lawrence, Anderson said. City officials particularly pitched the advantage of available land and the ability of a developer to be creative.

'Alpha team' strong

Although the exact location of De Soto's proposed site hasn't been identified, Anderson said it was west of the city and south of Kansas Highway 10. The area is near property Kansas University owns near or on the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant that is to be for bioscience research park uses and 200 acres the plant's new owner, Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, was set aside of commercial development in the life sciences. The stadium complex would extend sewers and other infrastructure to those properties, Anderson said.

City officials have been very secretive about the project, calling it "Project Alpha." Guilfoyle said the city and De Soto Economic Development Council had assembled a team of professionals from the construction, financial and development communities to help with its proposal.

Despite published concerns of De Soto and Gardner's ability to manage a deal of the complexity of the stadium complex Anderson and Guilfoyle said they were undaunted by the project and confident the "Alpha team" could complete the project. But they stressed any city would require the help of the county and state.

"For somebody to conclude that the ability to pull something of this complexity is going to rely on in-house expertise of some department is foolishness," Guilfoyle said. "To do this successfully is going to require a talented team and cooperation of the county and state.

"I think that we're still talking about this today shows that those in the selection process think the team we've assembled has demonstrated its ability to be successful."

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