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Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

Grant stance may cost Oz key backing

Johnson County commissioner demands escrow payment

August 23, 2001

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— Oz Entertainment Co.'s claim that it should not have to repay any of the $550,000 it received from Wyandotte County may hurt its chances to build a theme park near DeSoto.

Oz Entertainment officials on Monday argued in a letter to Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall that it should not have to repay any of the economic development grants it received from Wyandotte County in the late 1990s. The company argued that the grants were not loans, and thus did not require repayment.

The new stance led Johnson County Commission Chairman Doug Wood to question his staunch support of the company. He demanded that Oz put the money in an escrow account immediately.

If the company does not, Wood said, he probably will vote against the company's efforts to build a multimillion dollar theme park near DeSoto.

"I'm tired of being beat up about this," Wood said, referring to his support for Oz. "It's the worst public relations action of any developer I've ever seen or heard of. I'm fed up."

Wood said he agreed that legally the company should not have to repay the money. But Oz has an ethical responsibility to pay and company executives said they would, he said.

Oz needs Wood's vote to pass its project. The commission has deadlocked 2-2 on the project twice, with one member abstaining. Both times, Wood voted for Oz.

The Wyandotte County governments gave Oz the money for feasibility studies and other uses in the early 1990s when the company planned to build a Wonderful World of Oz theme park there.

When Oz relocated its project to Johnson County, the Legislature required that the money be repaid. Earlier this year, lawmakers set an October deadline.

But in recent months, Oz has asked to have the deadline extended and now is asking Stovall to decide whether Oz must pay any money at all, and if so, when.

Oz lawyer John Petersen argued in a letter to Stovall Monday that Oz received grants, not loans, from the county and the Board of Public Utilities. As a result, Stovall should determine that Oz has no debt to the Unified Government, he wrote.

Oz and the Unified Government have agreed that the amount to be repaid is $550,000. Oz sent the Unified Government a check for $150,000 on June 27 and entered into an agreement with the BPU to delay payment of the rest. The agreement is contingent upon the attorney general's opinion, which is expected next month.

The Unified Government placed the $150,000 check in an escrow account pending the opinion.

Unified Government Administrator Dennis Hays on Tuesday expressed surprise at Oz's new stance.

"I'm a little perplexed and find it a little odd the change in position by Mr. Petersen and the folks with Oz," Hays said.

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