A major tract of undeveloped land along the Kansas Highway 10 corridor, which officials say has huge economic development potential, is about to be open for business.
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday signed an agreement transferring 9,065 acres of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near De Soto to a private developer. The land will be used for a mix of private development, public parks and research parks - including 300 acres to be deeded to Kansas University for bioscience projects.
"I'm pleased," said David Shulenburger, provost and executive vice chancellor. "We've been working with the folks a long time, and it's important there will be research park space there."
The land was transferred to Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, a Kansas City-based entity charged with the site's renewal.
KU's new 300 acres - which Shulenburger hopes will be deeded to the university soon - will come in addition to the 200 acres KU already owns in the northwest corner of the property, near K-10. It will be near 250 acres set aside for a research park for private companies.
Other allocation of land includes:
¢ More than 6,000 acres for private development.
¢ 342 acres to Kansas State University for research and horticulture test fields.
¢ 2,000 acres for parks, including trails to connect the site with Kill Creek Park near Gardner.
¢ 30 acres to the De Soto school district to build elementary schools.
¢ 12 acres to the city of De Soto for its water treatment facility.
The land transfer ends more than three years of negotiations over the plant site. The U.S. General Services Administration in 1995 announced its willingness to return the property to the public.
The plant was built to produce ammunition during World War II and later manufactured nitric and sulfuric acids. Most of the plant has been inactive since 1971, with final production finished in 1989.
"With this agreement in place," Sebelius said, "the Sunflower Redevelopment LLC firm can move ahead on transforming this site, with its ammunition production history, into a center for world-class scientific research and innovative economic development that will benefit all Kansans."
Cleanup at the site is expected to take up to seven years and cost tens of millions of dollars, to be covered by the developer and the federal government.
Because of that time frame, Shulenburger said, KU has no specific proposals for the land.
"The difficulty is that while we know for certain the land will be coming to us, there's not a firm schedule for when it will be cleaned up," he said. "Until there's a firm schedule for cleaning it up, it's hard to make plans."
But Shulenburger said the land would be used for research projects, likely in biosciences and computing.
"It's just clear we're going to keep growing, and our research space here will become tight in time," he said. "And we'd love to have an environment where we can co-locate with firms and do university research adjacent to related commercial ventures."
Though total cleanup could take seven years, it's possible the research park could begin sooner than that. John Petersen, attorney for Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, said it could happen in three to four years. He noted that the "vast majority" of KU land won't require cleanup.
"We'd love to have it going as soon as possible," Shulenburger said.