Window on the West
by Mary Rupert
On Monday night, a proposal was presented at a Unified Government committee meeting for a fast-food restaurant and a doughnut shop to receive UG funding. It would be located near 18th and Metropolitan Avenue in the Argentine area of Kansas City, Kan.
The Unified Government Committee did not take action on the proposal at that time, however. Instead, commissioners started a discussion on what the policy should be on financing gaps in economic development projects. The project may come back before the commission sometime in the next few months.
Something about it all sounded familiar to me. A doughnut shop. Government funding. Health. What could I be remembering?
I’ll be the first to admit it sounds strange, a doughnut shop and fast-food restaurant getting a government grant, especially from Wyandotte County, which is trying to emphasize health. But it is not unprecedented.
I was present at the ribbon-cutting for Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in February 2015 at Wyandotte Plaza at 78th and State in Kansas City, Kan. The Schlagle High School band played. State officials were present.
The highest official was the lieutenant governor of Kansas, Dr. Jeff Colyer. Yes, a medical doctor welcomed a doughnut shop to Wyandotte County, in 2015. Also there were the Kansas secretary of state and Miss Kansas USA. I felt sorry for Miss Kansas USA since it was February and everyone was outdoors.
Really, I thought it was much ado about doughnuts. There were special circumstances — it was Krispy Kreme’s 1,000th shop opening and KCK was the center of a global doughnut celebration. And they have a really nice building.
There was a long line all around the Krispy Kreme drive-through that day. There were free doughnuts. And, our Wyandotte Daily Facebook page saw a huge sugar spike after we ran the story and photos, attesting to local interest.
The UG approved a community improvement district and a bond issue for the overall $28 million redevelopment project at the shopping center. Krispy Kreme is a separate building, but the project would not likely have been done without the renovation of the shopping center. I did not hear any big protest of fast-food and doughnuts when the Wyandotte Plaza Krispy Kreme was built.
Now that the Argentine area wants a doughnut shop – this one is a Dunkin’ Donuts, next to a Wendy’s and Pizza Hut – all sorts of red flags are being raised by commissioners and others in the UG.
It is a $3.3 million development that has already been awarded a federal grant of $1.2 million. The grant is to create 71 new jobs, most of them entry-level, in the Argentine area, according to Commissioner Ann Murguia. The developer is Ferguson Properties.
The project has a gap of $550,000, and that is the amount that is sought from a new UG gap fund approved in the last budget.
I think if the project is approved, first there should be a UG economic analysis of its finances. And the UG Commission needs to decide whether it wants to do this as a pilot project on a trial basis or whether it wants to set policies first on it. Commissioners also raised a question about whether they would want to fund a project that is so close to the Walmart Neighborhood Market project that still has a few pad sites available.
Whether the project is fast food or not should not be an issue, because it has never been an issue anywhere else in Wyandotte County, including not at Wyandotte Plaza last year. Maybe, if all fast-food places were banned in Wyandotte County, it might be reasonable to ban this one.
Commissioner Murguia has a commendable pattern of surveying her constituents and then trying to get what they want, and there is a lack of fast-food restaurants in the area. A couple of fast-food places are helpful when people travel from several miles away to go shopping and want to stop somewhere to grab a bite to eat.
I find it paternalistic that some people now are calling for scuttling the project just because it is a fast-food place. Who’s to say a person shouldn’t have one doughnut every other week or one hamburger every other Saturday? Lately, we have seen some other paternalistic legislation out of Topeka, dictating that people on Medicaid should be given less expensive medications, with legislators deciding that they know more than the patients’ own doctors.
Frankly, I would rather help mom-and-pop restaurants owned by people who live here before helping chains, and I would hope some future project helps local owners and operators. At the same time, if a chain fast-food place is what the residents of an area want, why not give it to them? The new fast-food places also help to address a lack of entry-level jobs in that area.
The UG is showing quite a double standard when it comes to projects located in Argentine compared to projects on the west side. Given some of the UG Commission’s past reactions to projects that Commissioner Murguia is in favor of, perhaps it would be good if developers start now to try to line up 110 private investors with $5,000 each, or 5,000 private investors with $110 each.
Otherwise, if this project is approved, there probably needs to be a rotation plan developed to build similar places in other districts on the east side.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email email@example.com.