Archive for Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Developers want Sunflower site

State committee will review new proposal for ammunition plant

June 12, 2002

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Kansas City real estate developers have a plan for the defunct Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near DeSoto that doesn't involve a yellow brick road.

The proposal from Kessinger/Hunter & Co. and its financier, Cherokee Investment Partners, asks the state to transfer the heavily polluted land to them. In return, they would build a development with commercial, residential and recreational offerings.

No Land of Oz-style development is on the agenda.

"No more wacky theme park," DeSoto Mayor Dave Anderson said.

The developing companies also would handle environmental cleanup of the more than 9,000 acres in western Johnson County.

The new developers have up to $50 million available for costs associated with cleaning up the property, much of which was contaminated by decades of artillery shell manufacturing, Kessinger/Hunter executive director Charles Hunter said.

Kansas Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer will lead a state committee to review the proposal from Kessinger/Hunter of Kansas City, Mo.

The site's future has remained uncertain since plans for a Land of Oz theme park fell through.

Public funds in the form of sales and tax incentives will not be sought for the cleanup, Hunter said.

"I want to make that clear," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon. "And this doesn't include a theme park."

Gov. Bill Graves received a letter June 4 from Hunter describing the group's wishes to tackle development of the site.

Graves' proposal-review team also will have Secretary of Health and Environment Clyde Graeber, Secretary of Wildlife and Parks Mike Hayden and Kansas Development Finance Authority President Jack Brier.

Hunter said his group would meet or exceed requirements that were set earlier for the Oz theme park at the site. After years of negotiating and controversy, Oz developers dropped their proposal last December.

'Exciting, growing area'

Kessinger/Hunter had been looking at the Sunflower site for the past year, Hunter said.

"It's right along the K-10 corridor, and it's an exciting, growing area," he said. "There isn't any other area that size available in Johnson County."

Anderson said the new group's proposal appears to meet criteria he sought in potential developers, mainly an early transfer of land, the cleanup and no use of public funds from sales and tax incentives. Anderson said he met last week with Johnson County attorney John Peterson, who is representing Kessinger/Hunter.

"I said I would like to see a little more industrial development there, and he said they were open to that," Anderson said.

"There is no master plan yet, and we can work with the public on what they want," Hunter said.

Any plans for Sunflower must meet approval of the Johnson County Commission. Commission Chairwoman Susie Wolf expressed cautious optimism about the new developers, but she said she knew few details about their plans.

"I hesitate to say anything is promising out there," Wolf said. "I think it's our obligation to the people who elected us to be cautious."

Cherokee Investment Partners would be responsible for hiring contractors to clean up the land, Hunter said.

Cherokee experience

Cherokee has been buying contaminated sites for development since 1990. Since that time, according to the company, it has acquired and cleaned nearly 300 sites in 32 states and five other countries, including Canada. It has offices in Denver, Raleigh, N.C., Bayonne, N.J., and London.

Kessinger/Hunter has developed in excess of 8 million square feet of commercial real estate space, including the Kansas Commerce Center, a 140-acre mixed-use business park on Lackman Road in Lenexa, according to the company.

Hunter and a spokesman in Graves' office said they didn't know how long it would take Sherrer's committee to review the proposal and sign off on the deal.

During theme park negotiations, a transfer procedure was worked out with the Army, federal General Services Administration and various Kansas agencies.

The site currently is surplus federal property. The GSA has made a conditional agreement to transfer the plant site to the Kansas State Projects Development Corp. The state then transfers the site to developers after approval from various state, county and federal government entities.

"We hope it can be done by the end of the year," Hunter said.

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