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Archive for Friday, January 9, 2004

Johnson County picks company to develop ammunition plant site

January 9, 2004

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— Johnson County commissioners said Thursday they wanted a Kansas City, Mo., company to develop the defunct Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near De Soto.

Officials said Kessinger/Hunter & Co. was the only one of six firms interested in the 9,065-acre site with the resources to buy the property, clean it up and profitably develop it to include residential, business and park uses.

In making their decision Thursday, commissioners rejected the idea the county government should act as the developer.

"I am perfectly willing to let a private investor profit, if they're willing to take the risk," said Annabeth Surbaugh, the commission chairwoman.

But two members of the seven-member commission protested the process that led to the choice of Kessinger/Hunter, saying other private firms hadn't been given enough time to make their case.

"We effectively weeded them out by having such a short time frame to act," Commissioner Edward Peterson said. Commissioner John Toplikar agreed but said he wouldn't oppose the choice of Kessinger/Hunter.

Expensive cleanup

Charles Hunter, a partner in the winning firm, said he hoped the property would become the cornerstone of the Kansas Highway 10 corridor linking Kansas City and Lawrence. His firm was the first to express interest to state officials in January 2002, after plans for a proposed "Wizard of Oz" theme park fell apart.

"The long-term future growth of the county is in that corridor," Hunter said after the choice was revealed.

Johnson County is trying to acquire the land -- declared surplus property by the federal government -- to transfer to a private company for a business and residential development, which would include a town center and nearly 3,500 acres of park space.

The county has a role because the federal government will negotiate a sale price with local governments, not private developers. By getting involved, Johnson County commissioners said they retained some control over the development future of the land.

Don Jarrett, chief counsel for Johnson County, said the final market value of the property would be in the $50 million to $90 million range. The site also will require tens of millions of dollars be spent to remove hazardous waste left from the manufacture of munitions. Officials said the cleanup cost would be borne by Kessinger/Hunter and could take up to seven years to complete.

"I think that timetable is optimistic," Commissioner Dolores Furtado said.

'Realistic and fair'

Commissioners in December formed a group to review the development proposals -- sending a letter to developers on Dec. 23 requesting information, with a deadline of Jan. 2. Don Dowell, a Shawnee developer who had expressed interest in the site, said the quick deadline over the holidays put other firms at a disadvantage to Kessinger/Hunter

"The process was staged," Dowell said.

Other developers that had expressed an interest in the area were Hunt Midwest Enterprises Inc. of Kansas City, Kan.; Wind Power of Lenexa; Pollution Risk Services of Cincinnati; and LS Commercial Real Estate of Overland Park.

Commissioner Doug Wood said Kessinger/Hunter had the advantage only because it had worked longer on the project.

"This process may not have been perfect," he said, "but I think this process was realistic and fair."

The Johnson County Commission also will create a "redevelopment authority" to oversee the details of the process. An early draft of the resolution creating the committee limited membership to Johnson County residents, but Wood said Douglas County representation should be included.

Commissioners did not make their decision formal. Surbaugh said a public hearing and vote will take place next Thursday. Jarrett will then negotiate details of the land transaction, development and cleanup with Kessinger/Hunter.

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