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Mary Rupert


As a $90 million STAR bond district was unanimously approved Thursday night for the 94th and State Avenue area, one thing was missing.

The development agreement for a major feature of the district, the national soccer training center, was not part of the package presented for approval at the Unified Government Commission meeting.

While project plans for the soccer training center area were approved, the actual development agreement for the soccer center is pending.

“We anticipate having a development agreement structured with Ongoal for their project related to the U.S. Soccer facility at a future date,” said George Brajkovic, UG director of economic development.

That soccer training area was one of five areas outlined for the bond district. A development agreement for the other four areas was approved Thursday night after a public hearing. The development agreement was with SVV 1, LLC. The soccer area agreement will be with Ongoal, parent company of Sporting Park.

The STAR bond district is roughly from 94th Street to I-435, and from State Avenue to Parallel Parkway.

The first project area is the existing Schlitterbahn waterpark, according to Brajkovic. The second project area is the proposed auto dealership mall, with hotel and restaurant pad sites. The third project area is a 59-acre site for future retail and possible office area use. The fourth area is for the U.S. Soccer training facility. The fifth area is for future waterpark expansion and lodging.

The total cost at completion is projected to be near $660 million, Brajkovic said. The STAR bond financing would be capped at $90 million, he said.

No UG general obligation funds or other backing by the UG is planned for this project, he said. In STAR bonds, 1 percent of the city sales tax and the UG’s share of the county sales tax would go toward the project. The transient and hotel guest tax also would go toward this.

He estimated $42 million in new appraised value at full buildout. The total annual effect is $2.3 million from this project that will be retained locally, he said.

Commissioner Hal Walker asked if there were any guarantees in the agreement that this is accepted as the appraised value for real estate taxation purposes. Brajkovic said there were no guarantees of that nature. The estimate was based on existing values, and he felt they were conservative estimates.

Walker said there were instances of other projects that were said to have a certain value, but at tax time lawyers argued they were worth 10 cents. He hoped there was a guarantee of the value when it comes time to pay the taxes.

Brajkovic said the project has performance criteria built into the $90 million figure. About $25 million is held back in two tiers, he said. If the developer executes a ground lease to provide ground to the U.S. Soccer project and cleans up 50 acres in the third project area, it would release $15 million. If the UG has an unconditional fully executed agreement for U.S. Soccer in the fourth project area, or if the developer timely commences the initial phases of the third project area in a retail area, then $10 million would be released.

Brajkovic said two auto dealerships that have been in Wyandotte County, a Ford and Chrysler dealership, are among those proposed for the auto dealership area. The dealerships may have previously been considering leaving the county, according to the UG. Within the agreement is a provision to capture the base sales tax they were producing, he said.

In the third project area, there is a five-year deadline to initiate development before the UG gets an option on the property.

There also is a prevailing wage provision in the agreement, which is left in as previously negotiated in the earlier version of it.

Donations to community not-for-profits, designated by the UG, of $750,000 payment upon bond issuance, with about $100,000 per year after that, increasing in increments, is included in the agreement.

Todd LaSala, attorney, said the auto mall project is west of 94th Street. The developer would start work by Dec. 31, 2014, and complete four auto dealerships by Dec. 31, 2016, he said.

The start of the third project area, retail area, would be started by Dec. 1, 2019, and developed in phases, with completion by December 1, 2022.

The new projects included in the STAR bond district are the $115 million in new capital investment for the new auto plaza area, and $187 million for the retail facility in the third project area, LaSala said.

The UG would be reimbursed through part of the $90 million for improvements already made to 98th Street, for a sewer interceptor and for a traffic signal.

In the auto plaza, only new sales above $15.5 million would be allowed to benefit this project, he said. Other portions of the sales would be captured and distributed, the way it was before, with the county the same way, and the city portion split between Bonner Springs and Edwardsville to protect the existing base.

The agreement calls for improvements along State Avenue, including new driveways for St. Patrick’s, and sidewalk improvements.

Project officials said they would be ready to turn dirt in the next few weeks with this project, if approved.

Robb Heineman, CEO of Ongoal, the parent company of Sporting Park, said about U.S. Soccer, “The fact that they are going to call the Unified Government home now is incredible, it gives me chills to say that to you tonight.”

The soccer portion of the project includes about 15 soccer fields, an indoor field, about 100,000 square feet of training and sport science, and futsal courts throughout the community, he said. The coaching and refereeing training would be located in the building.

“I want to thank you for the patience you’ve shown in giving us the time to make this happen, and I give you my word that when it happens it will be very special,” he said.

During the public hearing, an attorney appeared representing the owners of Legends Outlets. He said the notice about this expansion did not reach the right persons until today. Generally, the owners are not opposed to this project, he said, other than the addition of the STAR bond district to include their project. They haven’t had any dialogue about it, he said. He asked that they have the opportunity to have some dialogue about the effect on the project.

UG planning staff said that notices had been sent out to the Legends Outlets, with other notices, about 10 days before the hearing.

Also during the public hearing, a few residents, Maryann Flunder and Mary Martin, were concerned about minority, local and women-owned businesses receiving some contracts for the construction work to be done, especially businesses from Wyandotte County.

One person who lived near the project said she was proud that development was taking place there.

Another person who lived on 94th Street said he wondered if any discussion had been made regarding the residents who live there. “We’re going to be left alone, still, or are you guys going to give us some money?” he asked.

Thomas Gordon agreed with Commissioner Walker about making sure that the taxes were paid on the project valued on $42 million.

Marcia Rupp said it was wonderful for Wyandotte County, and reminded commissioners they need more police and fire staff with the increased development.

Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said the use of STAR bonds has been of tremendous benefit to Wyandotte County.

“It has propelled this community into being the top destination in the state of Kansas, with an estimated 10 million annual visitors, $650 million in annual sales generated from the area, and making up 10 percent of the county’s annual assessed valuation,” he said.

The expanded area drives development to the east side of I-435, he said.

“In a broader context, this infuses new excitement into this quarter, providing long-term economic growth to the community, creates additional tourism destination appeal, and once again, shows Wyandotte County’s aggressiveness toward economic development,” Kindle said.

Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-33rd Dist., who represents the area where the development is, said he supported the project. He said communication and inclusiveness generates good government, and he would hope, moving forward, to continue to hold public hearings and engage the entire community.

“With the national attention of Sporting Park and the continued commitment under the most economic trying of times by Schlitterbahn, we have good partners, we have long-term viability,” he said.

by Mary Rupert

Heartland Habitat for Humanity recently moved into new quarters at an office building on 18th Street north of I-70 in Kansas City, Kan.

The first day in the new office building, at 155 S. 18th St., Suite 120, was Aug. 21, said Tom Lally, executive director. The building contains professional offices. It also contains the local parole office.

The nonprofit Habitat organization, which increases the number of affordable homes for families and creates opportunities for low-income families to own their own homes, had to move from its location at the levee in the Fairfax area, as the buildings there were being torn down to make way for a redevelopment project.

“We’re a Wyandotte County organization, we do a lot of builds here. We cover and serve most of the metropolitan area. We felt it was important to maintain a Wyandotte County headquarters, so we looked diligently at all locations,” Lally said. “All had their pluses and minuses. Because of highway access, we decided on this location.”

He added that Habitat worked with the Unified Government and the levee project developer, NorthPoint.

He said that better technology at the new office will allow Habitat to hold more community meetings and training meetings.

“It’s a lot better, centrally located, and more accessible for our homeowners, and for the general public, to come in and take our common sense homeownership trainings,” he said.

Lally said there are three new home projects currently in Kansas City, Kan. Two homes in Armourdale will be finished in the next 30 days, he said. The dig for another project, on Mill Street, was just yesterday.

He said Heartland Habitat is in a conversation with the UG and a couple of private and nonprofit organizations to engage a specific Kansas City, Kan., neighborhood, bringing stakeholders and resources together there in 2015.

Besides new homes, Habitat is very active in helping to renovate old homes through “A Brush with Kindness” program and Veterans Housing Initiative, he said.

Recently, Heartland Habitat helped a World War II veteran who lives near the downtown area of Kansas City, Kan., he said.

Habitat’s vice president of construction went to look at the house, found it was overgrown with vegetation, trees, shrubs and poison ivy, he said. There were holes in the roof requiring an entire roof replacement.

A group of high school and college students who worked this summer with Heartland Habitat spent two weeks clearing brush, filling two dumpsters, he said. Then the UG came in and helped with the roof replacement.

Next, some minor repairs are planned; there were some mobility issues for the veteran.

“The gentleman was not looking for a handout; he was willing to help out,” Lally said. “We’re doing the right things for the right reason.”

Other new recent developments with Heartland Habitat include a new Habitat reStore opened in the Northland on the Missouri side of the metropolitan area. Now there are three Heartland Habitat reStores, including one in Kansas City, Kan., he said.

This year Heartland Habitat plans about eight home construction projects in Kansas City, Kan. Also, there are probably more than 40 “A Brush with Kindness” home repair projects planned here, he added.

In addition there are two more home construction projects planned for Olathe, Kan., and Liberty, Mo., as well as “A Brush with Kindness” projects.

“There’s need everywhere, as we’re finding out,” Lally said.

He added that Heartland Habitat is getting short on funds for Wyandotte County “A Brush with Kindness” projects. For the first time, there is a backlog of eligible projects, with some on hold until they get eligible funding, he said. The minor home repair projects have an average cost of about $1,500 each.

“We need funding and we need the volunteers to come out,” Lally said.

Corporations and businesses have been helpful, and funding has come in from a few plants in Kansas City, Kan., he added.

Office hours at the new Heartland Habitat location are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 913-342-3047.

Window on the West

by Mary Rupert

What can Kansas City, Kan., do to become a more equitable community?

That was the question I posed this week to Alvin Sykes, a Kansas City, Kan., human rights activist. The topic of equitableness and diversity has been discussed at the national level since recent events involving the shooting of a black teenager by a white policeman in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

“We must have more dialogue between people, because as we do, particularly all races and genders, we will learn more about each other and more about our capacity to come together and be a better city,” Sykes said. “Then we have to develop more of a belief in principles.”

That will make Kansas City, Kan., more of a community of character, he said.

Sykes was one of a group of about 20 community leaders who met with Kansas City, Kan., Police Chief Ellen Hanson recently to enhance communications. He also was part of another meeting of community members with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

At the meetings, various topics were discussed, such as the details of using deadly force in arrests, and the racial makeup of the law enforcement force.

Currently, efforts are underway for a task force to address issues such as more diversity in the police and fire departments. Mayor Mark Holland is scheduled to speak about the topic, with new plans to be presented, at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at the fifth floor meeting room at City Hall, 701 N. 7th St. The city has been meeting with the Justice Department and local community members for several months.

“The mayor needs to be really commended for reaching out to the Justice Department,” Sykes said. “That’s a good step about showing he had some genuine sensitivity to the issue.”

Sykes said he believed that more interaction and outreach between public safety officers and the community would be beneficial. More interaction would lead to a greater sense of humaneness and more sensitivity on both sides, he said.

“If we develop a justice-seeking atmosphere in the community, those goals will be perceived as a matter of course,” he said.

There are some factors that make it more difficult to be hired or an unattractive job for minorities, he believes, such as the rules governing who may be hired, including rules written into contracts; the relatively low pay for officers; and the image of the officers in the community.

Last Nov. 21, it was obvious that blacks were not well-represented in the class of firefighter recruits who graduated at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. The group included mostly white males, and some of them graduated from schools outside of Wyandotte County. Not long after that, the topic of including more minorities, and more residents, in the ranks of the police and firefighters was discussed by commissioners at the UG’s budget meetings.

Currently, Kansas City, Kan., has a 26.8 percent black population, and a 27.8 percent Hispanic population, according to UG figures derived from the census. The police department is 11.6 percent black and 10.7 percent Hispanic, according to UG figures.

Sykes noted that was very much different from Ferguson, where 57 percent of the population was black and there were three black officers out of 53.

“We have a lot more to work with,” Sykes said. “We’re not as bad as some other places; we do have the tools to make it better. We have a good police department; our challenge is to make it a great one, so we need to get to the best practice levels of doing things.”

As an example of an issue where there needs to be better community communication and more dialogue, Sykes cited his effort to get the UG Commission to fill a vacant seat, the 1st District at large position, after a tie vote left it vacant in 2013. A resident has taken the UG to court in an effort to fill the vacant seat. The UG’s charter did not spell out what steps could be taken in the event of a tie.

“The majority of the black residents in the city live in the 1st District at large, the least amount live in the 2nd District at large,” Sykes said. “So there’s an underlying feeling in the black community that if it wasn’t for the fact that most of the blacks live in the 1st District at large, they would have filled the seat a long time ago.”

A lot of the office holders who are white did not see the issue in these terms, he added.

“We need to learn more about what other people think and what makes them feel better about this community and this world, just as we look at what it takes for us to do so,” Sykes said. “We need to address some of those concerns and have sensitivity to other communities.”

Kansas City, Kan., he said, is big enough to be able to have the ability to make some big changes within the boundaries of the community, but it’s small enough to be able to see the results if they occur, or to see that they haven’t been met. The goals are not out of reach, he said.

The city has the capacity and resources to make changes, it just has to be able to have the courage and willingness, with the sensitivity, to do so, he said.

To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com.