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Archive for Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Proposal to help Olathe land Wizards’ stadium stalls

May 3, 2006

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— Olathe officials aren't likely to get help this year from the Legislature for efforts to attract a new stadium complex for professional soccer's Kansas City Wizards.

The city proposed last week that legislators rewrite state laws dealing with an economic development tool known as STAR bonds. With state approval, those bonds can be issued for large projects, then paid off with sales tax revenues generated from the new economic activity.

However, the idea isn't likely to emerge from the Senate Commerce Committee, partly because legislators are close to the end of their annual session, with Tuesday the 85th of 90 scheduled days.

"There just wasn't much interest on the part of the committee," Chairwoman Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, said Tuesday.

Spokesman Tim Danneberg said the city still plans to pursue the Wizards, even without a change in STAR bonds laws.

"It's more or less the late hour of the session," he said of legislators' reluctance. "We certainly understand it."

The Wizards' future has been in doubt since December 2004, when owner Lamar Hunt, who also owns professional football's Kansas City Chiefs, announced plans to sell the soccer club.

In early April, Major League Soccer narrowed its choices to Olathe, De Soto and Gardner for the 220-acre complex, which would cost from $89 million to $125 million, according to a league consultant. Supporters believe the three cities offer enough inexpensive real estate, access to major highways, flat land and access to utilities.

Olathe would like to use the bonding program to construct the stadium and its amenities, then lease the stadium to the team. State law prohibits governments from using the bonds to build facilities and turning around and leasing them to a private entity.

"For us, and in all likelihood anyone, to explore putting together a soccer stadium, some type of incentive like STAR bonds would be needed," Danneberg said.

With a $175 million budget, Olathe can't afford to build and maintain such a soccer complex, he said, adding that the city doesn't ever want to have to ask residents to increase taxes to fund improvements, as Jackson County did this year to help the Chiefs and baseball's Kansas City Royals upgrade their stadiums.

"This type of project will need to be self-sustaining in terms of revenue generation," he said.

But Olathe's proposal also put legislators in the awkward position of considering changes in STAR bond laws only a year after they rewrote them to close perceived loopholes used by developers of the Village West and Kansas Speedway projects in Wyandotte County.

"One of our beefs is that we tried to write a universal STAR bond law," Brownlee said.

Two other projects in the Kansas City area could tap STAR bonds, even with the legislative changes made last year.

State officials already have agreed to issue up to $225 million in STAR bonds for a $412 million water park and resort near Village West, on 300 acres near Kansas Speedway.

STAR bonds also could be used to help finance a Legoland theme park, based on the popular children's toy.

Associated Press Writer John Milburn in Topeka also contributed.

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