Archive for Monday, June 14, 2010

Big step forward

The city’s acquisition of the former Farmland property finally is moving forward.

June 14, 2010


Finalizing the city’s acquisition of the former Farmland Industries site at the east edge of Lawrence opens some exciting economic development possibilities for the community.

The action has taken a long time, and it is not without risk for the city, but acquiring the property is a good move for the city. It will give the city control over how property at a key entrance to Lawrence will be developed and provide land to expand the business, research and industrial sites Lawrence can market to new employers or local companies seeking to expand their operation.

The documents on Tuesday’s agenda will transfer ownership of the 467-acre site to the city along with $8.5 million from the property’s trust fund that will be used to remedy environmental issues resulting from the site’s former use as a fertilizer plant. The city also will accept responsibility for completing the necessary environmental remediation, which is the primary risk factor in the agreement.

After years of studying the situation, city officials believe the $8.5 million will be enough to complete the 30-year cleanup plan. Although earlier estimates put the cleanup cost at about $13 million, the city hopes to cut that cost by using city workers to complete some of the work. Projections to pay for the cleanup also include interest earned from investing the $8.5 million while the work is under way. Additional costs to extend infrastructure will be covered by special assessments on the industrial lots developed at the site.

Officials have done their best to minimize the risk of taking responsibility for the cleanup. Whatever risk remains is acceptable given the potential benefits of this site for Lawrence. Creating new jobs is a top priority for Lawrence, but it has been difficult to accomplish that goal because the city had so few sites to market to potential employers, especially large, industrial employers. Having the city in charge of the Farmland site will ensure that both cleanup and development of the area will be done in a way that makes it a long-term asset for the community.

It’s been a long time coming. It’s nice to see the project finally getting off the ground.


pace 7 years, 7 months ago

Good news, the site should be cleaned up and put back to work. We need industry. Left to rot it would be a creeping sore. We need honest industry, not another pirate like farmland. The city and the state let farmland use our soil and water like their own private toilet. Too many industries are using our water and air as private landfills. The disposal costs should be born by those who make the profits, not born by the neighbors and those downstream.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 7 months ago

How much will this cost the taxpayers is the question.

To assume that all additional costs will be covered by real estate sales sounds good but may well be unrealistic. Real estate markets are flooded with property which means market value will not be so hot. Inflated prices will let properties sit idle = a hit on local taxpayers.

Who wants to locate on this property?

To pretend that this problem does not exist is negligent and irresponsible to local taxpayers!

By Kim McClure

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.

Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence

P Allen Macfarlane 7 years, 7 months ago

This site could easily become an environmental nightmare if the city has underestimated the cost of remediation. A look at other remediation projects and their costs should be an eye-opener, even if city workers are used to perform the cleanup. Remediation technologies are not particularly expensive, but they require a lot of O&M costs over a long period of time before the methods can be declared successful. It is much easier to contaminate a site than it is to clean it up. The party released from responsibility for the site may have been relieved of quite an albatross and our fair city may now be the bearer of this burden.

KU_cynic 7 years, 7 months ago

The city's explanations for why it won't cost $13 million to remedy the environmental damages have never added up.

Use city workers? That's not free; either they're workers we don't need or other work they would do goes undone. They're cheaper than private sector contractors? Why? Because they are untrained and the city assumes health and safety liabilities for them that a private contractor would have to insure against. If we buy them needed training what's to keep them from working a little while and then marketing those skills at higher wages to the private sector, requiring that the city train a new batch of workers?

I've also heard "we'll earn money in interest on the trust fund." Really, with long-term interest rates extremely low, and any increase in nominal rates dependent on a return of higher inflation, inflation which itself would elevate clean-up costs? That's like a parent who's only put away $20K in college savings for a kid who will graduate from high school and need $40,000 in three years saying, "I can make it up when interest rates go up."

This is a costly and risky boondoggle undertaken by self-serving city employees who want to show that they can take this on (but they can't) and city commissioners eager to throw anything against the wall to see if it will stick and create some jobs here in Lawrence. The rub is that all of us tax payers are holding the bag.

Not a good day in the history of the city, I'll wager.

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