Window on the West
by Mary Rupert
The Unified Government is trying to work out a plan that will advance the new South Patrol police station project near 21st and Metropolitan Avenue.
The state has decided against putting a parole office there, where it might have leased space from the UG, and so the financing part of the station now will be reworked. The topic was discussed at a UG public works standing committee meeting last week, where commissioners decided to keep working on it, and financing for the project next will be discussed at a UG economic development and finance standing committee meeting Sept. 8.
The new public safety building is on a remediated former Structural Steel site, where a nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market will open next week. The state parole office earlier had proposed to move to near 7th and State in downtown Kansas City, Kan., next to a preschool, but that decision was changed after opposition from community residents and legislators.
At the meeting last week, Bob Roddy of the public works department said the state was dissatisfied with the proposed cost of rent at the public safety building in Argentine. At some places, the state receives free rent, he said. It wasn’t that the UG would be charging unreasonable rent, but that the amount wouldn’t work in the state’s budget, he said.
The amount was reportedly $40 per square foot, and then was down to $20. But the most the state pays elsewhere to lease parole offices is about $12 per square foot, according to sources.
While apparently there was no agreement yet for the state to stay at its current location near I-70 and 18th Street, the state was still in negotiations to stay on 18th Street as of last week’s meeting.
Roddy told the UG commissioners that the notice of need for designing the public safety building had already gone out, but now had to be withdrawn, as the UG reevaluates the project, its size and the finances. The UG has received a $400,000 economic development grant from the state for the project, and it will still be in effect, according to UG officials.
UG Administrator Doug Bach told the commission last week that the UG thinks it can build the public safety building, without the parole office. The UG would be looking for $2 million or $2.5 million. There is a tax increment financing district with the project and revenues will flow into the district in six or seven years, based on projections, he said. The general fund obligation would be expected to be less than a million dollars for the project, he said.
There was support at the committee level for moving the project forward, and Commissioner Ann Murguia, who has backed the project from the start, said she thinks there will be enough commission support for it.
She added that she was totally taken off guard and surprised by the state’s backing out of the project.
At least two controversial subjects were addressed at the standing committee meeting last week. One was a rumor that a state legislator from Wyandotte County had encouraged the state to back out of the project.
One of the residents who spoke at the standing committee meeting mentioned Sen. Pat Pettey’s name, and I called Sen. Pettey this week to ask her about it. She said she did not have anything to do with the state backing out of this project. She said she had attended some meetings about the public safety building, and for the most part, residents were in favor of it, with just a few expressing opposition. She said it wasn’t likely that a Democratic senator, in the minority party, could have that much influence with the Republican state government.
The other issue was the idea mentioned by Commissioners Mike Kane and Murguia that a new downtown redevelopment for the old Katz building with $1.5 million in funding will just be a coffee shop on Minnesota Avenue, and so is not as important as the public safety building.
I personally don’t see development projects in an “either-or” framework. Any redevelopment downtown is likely to result in an improvement of the downtown Kansas City, Kan., economy, and likely to spur the location of other businesses there eventually, if not immediately. Anything that helps one area of the community is likely to help the other areas as it will eventually produce more tax dollars for the community. It’s hard to say which one is more important, in the long run. If economic development spurs more jobs, it might result in less crime, also. Asking which one is better, the new police station or the renovated building downtown, seems rather pointless because the needs are all around us in all areas. The UG probably should have been working on all of them already.
However, I do realize that it’s often the commission’s difficult task to rank the projects that will receive the local government’s support, and it’s an important task. At this time, it is apparent that the south part of the community is overdue for a better police station.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.