UG Commission approves URBN development project

A drawing of the new $403 million URBN fulfillment center to be located next to the Kansas Speedway at 118th and State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. (Drawing from UG meeting information)

The Unified Government Commission on Thursday night unanimously approved a development agreement and bond agreement for the URBN development project, next to the Kansas Speedway at 118th and State Avenue.

Mayor David Alvey said the project was attractive in many ways, including its commitment to hire at least 35 percent of its employees from Wyandotte County, and providing transportation and child care.

The $403 million project promises more than 1,000 good-paying jobs in the next five years, according to Katherine Carttar, UG economic development director.

It will provide 1.5 million square feet of distribution space and 60,000 square feet of office space for Urban Outfitters and its companies, according to Carttar.

About 985 full-time jobs will pay about $18 an hour, Carttar said, while about 77 office-related jobs will pay around $35 an hour. They also expect to offer about 739 part-time jobs.

Carttar said it would be a tremendous increase to the starting salary of distribution jobs in Wyandotte County, and she hoped it would push the entire industry to even higher wages here.

The distribution fulfillment center would be the main national distribution center for Office Outfitters and its companies, according to officials. It would serve the company’s 200 stores on both coasts and throughout the nation, and it was previously described as an ecommerce direct fulfillment center. Under the plan, the facility would begin operation in 2022.

The project was worked out by state and local economic development officials, and was announced by Gov. Laura Kelly on Aug. 5.

Carttar said the incentive proposal is a 75 percent abatement over 10 years through industrial revenue bonds. It has a 45 percent base, with a 15 percent investment bonus and a 10 percent goal to hire 35 percent Wyandotte County residents, and five percent for minority, women and local contractors.

It amounts to $13.7 million over 10 years in abatements, she said. The company will be paying $6.5 million a year in payments received over 10 years, she added.

A cost benefit analysis showed all taxing jurisdictions would receive significant, positive returns on investment, Carttar said.

It was a true partnership, where they worked closely with the state and Urban Outfitters to come up with a proposal “outside the box.” The company is very community focused, and has made a commitment for child care, with an investment from state and commitment from UG, as well as a commitment for an express bus route from Indian Springs to the distribution site.

The state will contribute $1.5 million for the initial startup costs of the express route, with the company providing a CID to provide about $300,000 annually to operate the express line, she said. It would benefit their employees as well as the wider community, Carttar said.

David Ziel, chief development officer for Urban Outfitters, said he was proud to plant their largest facility in Wyandotte County.

“This is the center pin of our overall strategy for years to come,” he said.

The selection was based on partnerships, but more importantly, on the people, he said. People were the focus, with attention given by everyone to how to position the project, provide better transportation, continue to support and help the economy flourish.

“We feel it’s the strongest workforce out of our six finalists, three in each state,” he said.

He said he was looking forward to more projects in the region.

“We will hire as many candidates from Wyandotte County who qualify and who apply,” Ziel said. From their perspective, the 35 percent is not a limit on how many local residents may receive jobs. “We could go as high as it accommodates.”

Urban Outfitters’ companies include Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and the wedding concept.

“This becomes our true Omni channel facility, which supports retail, distribution, as well as direct to consumer fulfillment at the largest proportion,” Ziel said.

Originally founded on the East Coast, Urban Outfitters’ largest expansion was on the West Coast, he said. “We’ve chosen Wyandotte County in Kansas to be the centerpoint of our strategy.”

He said they are excited about universities being in close proximity, and there may be other opportunities to grow the business in Kansas, Wyandotte County and surrounding areas in the future.

He said they would be local-driven on this project.

“I am committed to continue to evolve concepts further,” he said.

Child care in this facility was a huge initiative from the state and local governments, he said. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be in this facility, but will be located in the community. Transportation also will support their development as well as continued development, providing access to good-paying jobs, he said.

“We are extraordinarily pleased,” Ziel said.

Greg Kindle, the president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said he’s been impressed by the company’s culture.

“They’re committed to creating a quality of life for their employees that we believe brings value to Wyandotte County,” Kindle said. “This is not a transactional development deal. What is before you is a transformational development agreement that connects Urban Outfitters to our community in numerous ways.”

Those ways include a long-term commitment to transit, hiring Wyandotte County residents, including those who do not speak English as a first language, creating nearly 2,000 jobs with sector leading wages, commitment to developing health care and child care programs, using local, women-owned and minority-owned firms in construction and connecting with school districts in internships and special projects, he said.

Commissioner Melissa Bynum complimented URBN for asking Wyandotte County what it needs with this project. She said this project was a “game changer,” and may help bring families out of generational poverty.

Commissioner Tom Burroughs said projects like this, with magnitude and long-lasting impact, are catalysts for additional development projects.

Commissioner Jane Philbrook said the community is at a tipping point for a cultural shift to help it grow and make a bright future. “You are a godsend, thank you very much,” she said.

Besides holding a public hearing on the fulfillment center tonight, the commission passed a resolution of intent, a bond ordinance authorizing issuing bonds, the development agreement and bond purchase agreement, and an ordinance releasing the land for the project from the tax-increment financing and STAR (sales tax revenue) bond district. The land was part of the Kansas Speedway property, to the west of the racetrack.

Large development projects move ahead

Large development projects in Kansas City, Kansas, moved ahead Monday night at the City Planning Commission meeting.

The remote meeting Monday night was on Zoom.

Developer Willie Lanier Jr. presented information about the downtown development that will replace the Reardon Center at 500 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kansas.

The project came back to the City Planning Commission for preliminary and final plan review because there were additional apartment units added to the project, according to the planning director, Gunnar Hand. He said they have been working out the final details for the project.

The Reardon Center redevelopment will include a new, smaller meeting space that can hold 350 people for banquets or 500 people in conference-style seating, once the pandemic is over, according to Lanier.

Besides the meeting space, there will be a 94-unit apartment building with commercial space on the first floor, a fitness center, a small park on the corner of 6th and State, as well as an athletic field near 6th and Nebraska, he said.

Lanier said this will be a transformational project for the downtown Kansas City, Kansas, community.

The project is across Minnesota Avenue from the new Merc grocery store, and also is close to the University of Kansas Health System’s Strawberry Hill behavioral campus and close to the U.S. courthouse, as well as close to the Hilton Garden Inn and the Board of Public Utilities.

The project was approved 8-0 by the Planning Commission and will move forward to the Unified Government Commission for approval at 7 p.m. Oct. 1.

Homefield project

The Homefield Project, a redevelopment of the Schlitterbahn water park at 98th and State Avenue, unanimously received the City Planning Commission’s approval that it conforms to the master plan.

The project received conformance approval for three of the six project areas, 2B, 3 and 5. Homefield would use STAR (sales tax revenue) bonds to finance the redevelopment of the water park into a youth sports destination.

Curtis Petersen with the Polsinelli law firm told the planning commission that there was a provision in the STAR bond statute that says the Planning Commission has to take any STAR bond plan and determine if the project plan is consistent with the intent of the Prairie-Delaware-Piper master plan.

These project areas were already developed under Schlitterbahn; the water park had previously qualified for STAR bonds.

One planning commissioner, James Connelly, said that he didn’t see any plans included with the information on the new development. There was a text description for the project. The uses, according to the planning director, will comply with what is in the master plan in the three large project areas. The planning staff recommendation was in favor of a finding of conformance.

Petersen said there wasn’t a specific site plan yet, and Hand said the designs will come back at a later time to the Planning Commission.

This will not go on to the UG Commission for approval, according to officials, as just the Planning Commission approval was needed.

Riverfront Redevelopment District project

Also receiving the Planning Commission’s finding of conformance to the master plan was the Riverfront Redevelopment District project at 200 S. James St., near the Kansas River.

According to an attorney for the project, Aaron March, approval was a technical requirement of the STAR bond statute.

There will be a TIF (tax increment financing) project plan coming up before the UG Commission for the development’s first project area, he added.

The Riverfront project includes 225 to 240 apartment units, he said. The master plan for the area was recently amended to change from industrial to mixed use.

Hand said the staff had reviewed it and found it in conformance with the master plan. He said they are in the process of reviewing site plans for the project, which could come before the planning commission in October.

Connelly said he would like to see the plans when they are approving these items.

According to the UG legal staff, they were only asked to approve a finding that the apartment project would conform with the master plan, at this time.

Hand said in the future, he could add more information about the projects for the board.

This item on conformance, also will not go to the full UG Commission. The UG Commission will consider on Thursday, Sept. 17, a public hearing date for the project, possibly to be Oct. 29.

Menard’s Epic project

During the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Monday night, Menard’s received approval for variances from the requested number of parking spaces and also from the specified height of a fence.

Menard’s is planning a development at 3115 S. 18th St.

Tyler Edwards, representing Menard’s, said it had the same design at its stores around the nation. About 400 parking spots is the number it typically needs, he said. He mentioned that contractors shop during the day, while homeowners shop at night, affecting the number of spots needed.

While Menard’s was requesting 404 parking spaces, the UG’s formula for parking, based on square footage, called for an additional 432 parking spaces.

Also, Menard’s requested a variance for the height of the fence that surrounds the store. All of their stores have a 14-foot tall fence, Edwards said. Fences can’t be more than 8 feet tall under city regulations.

The planning commission approved the parking variance on an 8-0 vote, and also approved the tall fence on a vote of 7-1.

The Menard’s project may have a public hearing on Oct. 29, if the public hearing date is approved at the UG Commission meeting on Sept. 17.

Chamber members prepare for 2021 legislative session

Opinion column

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by Murrel Bland

The Legislative Committee of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce is looking ahead to January 2021 when the Kansas Legislature will be back in session. Committee members, who met Friday, Sept. 11, via Zoom, expressed their views on various issues that the Legislature will face.

Mike Smallwood, the Legislative Committee chairman, said he is concerned about the restrictions business owners face because of the coronavirus pandemic. He told of a bowling alley in Lawrence that is struggling to stay open.

Cathy Harding, a member of the Legislative Committee, said it is important that restrictions are followed so the country can get past this pandemic. She is the president of the Wyandotte Health Foundation.

Greg Kindle, the president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, said the Legislature needs to look at early childhood education. He said affordable child care is a serious issue facing employees in many Wyandotte County businesses.

Smallwood said that a couple of issues he expects legislators to face are the online sales tax and encouraging state and local government to buy from local suppliers. He said he was surprised that state revenues for August were unexpectedly high.

Committee members were briefed on various federal stimulus proposals that would be contingent on the State Finance Council approving a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. The council did approve the state of emergency. However, a provision of the approval was that Gov. Laura Kelly would not close any business because of the pandemic.

Gov. Kelly recently announced that four Kansas cities, including Kansas City, Kansas, have submitted proposals vying for the U.S. Space Command; the other Kansas cities are Wichita, Derby and Leavenworth.

Daniel Silva, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is hoping to sponsor debates for candidates running for the Third District, U.S. Representative and U.S. Senate. Business West will sponsor candidates’ forums for those running for the Kansas House and Kansas Senate.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.