After years of haggling, the former Farmland Industries property likely will be under city ownership within the next 90 days.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will be asked to sign the final documents needed to complete the transfer of ownership from Farmland’s bankruptcy trust to the city.
City Manager David Corliss said once the documents are signed, the city likely would assume control of the 467-acre piece of eastern Lawrence property by October and then begin converting it into a business park.
City commissioners seem ready.
“As far as job creation goes, I think this is one of the biggest items I’ve ever been involved with,” said Mayor Mike Amyx, whose political career stretches back to the 1980s.
Commissioners have previously expressed support for the complicated deal that will put the property, which has been contaminated by years of fertilizer spills, into the care of the city.
Here’s a look at major provisions of the deal:
• The city won’t pay a purchase price for the property. Instead the city will assume all liability for cleanup of the site. The city will receive $8.5 million in funds from a trust fund set aside by Farmland.
• The Kansas Department of Health and Environment estimates cleanup of the property will cost about $15 million. The city must sign documents saying it is prepared to use its general taxing authority to clean up the property if trust fund money proves to be inadequate.
But Corliss said he does not believe the city will need to use taxpayer funds to do the environmental cleanup work. Instead, the city hopes to start selling clean pieces of the site to businesses by 2011. The city will use proceeds from the sales to supplement the trust fund.
The city also believes it will save money by using existing city employees for parts of the cleanup, which largely involves pumping nitrogen-tainted groundwater onto area cropland.
• If new types of contamination are found on the property, the city will be responsible for cleaning it up. But Corliss said the property has been studied for multiple years to assess its environmental condition.
“There are risks and there probably will be some surprises,” Corliss said. “But the property has been extensively analyzed and we think we’re in a good position to manage the project.”
• In addition to cleanup costs, there will be significant costs to extend infrastructure to the site. Corliss said city staff members have begun looking at ways to extend O’Connell Road north to 19th Street and to build a new road that would connect adjacent East Hills Business Park with O’Connell. Corliss said he may request about $1 million in city funding over the next two years to deal with some infrastructure issues. Other infrastructure costs may be financed using special benefit districts, which would require future business park tenants to help pay off those costs.
Amyx said the deal is not without risks, but he believes the potential rewards to the city could be great.
“This one just makes a lot sense,” Amyx said. “The location of the site being near city utilities, along a major corridor in K-10, next to East Hills Business Park, these are things that make a whole lot of sense.
“And this really is a chance for us to create a brand new entrance for the community.”
Corliss said several salvage crews already have begun to contact the city about removing the remaining tanks and structures from the site.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.