It’s good to hear that Lawrence officials now hope to report major progress in acquiring the former Farmland property in weeks rather than years.
This negotiation already has stretched far longer than many local residents had hoped. The community is eager to see this property put into more productive use.
On Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners authorized City Manager David Corliss to submit a new bid on the property located on Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of Lawrence. They didn’t disclose the details of the bid but promised to make them public before any contracts are finalized.
This complicated negotiation requires the city to play its cards close to the vest. The city’s goal is to avoid using any city tax dollars to clean up environmental damage at the site. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has put a $13 million price tag on the cleanup but the owners of a trust fund that can be tapped for those costs say that figure is too high. The line city officials apparently are trying to walk would allow the trust fund owners to keep some of their funds while not leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleanup costs.
The city annexed the Farmland site — almost 500 acres — in July and hopes to convert the property into a business park and perhaps other uses. The site’s proximity to K-10 and rail service should make it a highly desirable location for business development. The county’s current supply of property to market to prospective business and industrial interests is extremely limited; adding the Farmland property to the portfolio would be a huge economic development advance. Having the property under city control also should ensure it is developed in a way that benefits public goals.
Farmland Industries filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and the local property, which held a fertilizer production plant, has been abandoned for years. Much of the equipment has been removed from the site, but it still is an eyesore at one of the city’s most traveled entrances.
The bottom line is that this well-located property can be put to far better use to promote the city’s economic development goals. Reaching agreement on the cleanup funds is a key part of the city being able to purchase this property. Officials need a deal that protects city interests, but it would be great to see this project move forward — sooner rather than later.