Before Panasonic plant’s arrival, De Soto had spent decades preparing for growth

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Work continues on the Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto in September 2023.

De Soto City Administrator Mike Brungardt says Panasonic is poised to lead his city and the surrounding area into a new era of manufacturing prosperity as electric-vehicle battery production becomes the modern equivalent of the oil booms of 100 years ago.

The center of that boom in northeast Kansas will be the $4 billion lithium battery plant that the company is now building on 304 acres of the old Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, now renamed Ad Astra Enterprise Park. And because of steps De Soto has taken the past two decades, the growth will be aimed along a corridor that points straight west along Kansas Highway 10 toward Eudora and Lawrence.

photo by: Contributed

De Soto City Administrator Mike Brungardt

This month, De Soto and Panasonic will take a big step toward ushering in that growth — an agreement spelling out what city improvements are to be funded with tax increment financing, or TIF. TIF is an economic development tool that dedicates taxes that are collected on a development site to pay for a project’s needed infrastructure improvements.

The agreement is on schedule to be considered for approval Oct. 19 by the De Soto City Council and the Panasonic board of directors, said Brungardt, who became De Soto’s city administrator in 2016 after serving as city engineer since 2000.

Among the improvements the city will make under the agreement are:

• Significant expansions of the city’s water and wastewater capacity, as well as a new water tower on the Ad Astra property.

• A new sewer main from the city’s wastewater plant near the Kansas River in rural west De Soto to the Ad Astra property.

• 5 miles of new four-lane divided roadway. The new parkway will include a half mile in the Ad Astra property, 4.5 miles along a route of Lexington Avenue/103rd Street to Evening Star Road, and improvements on Evening Star Road to 95th Street just south of K-10.

• A new fire station across Lexington Avenue from the Ad Astra property.

The city will need to have all the improvements completed by the Panasonic plant’s planned opening in the spring of 2025, Brungardt said. To help meet that timeline, the city will enter design-build arrangements with contractors with the expectation that it will prevent product supply chain snags as projects move ahead, he said. However, he also said the timeline would be challenging for all involved.

“This is a massive undertaking for Panasonic, as well,” he said. “The schedule has been a challenge. Panasonic has an amazing group of in-house talent and consultants. They’ve been great to work with. There have been very few areas of disagreement. We all share a common goal and have been very clear we will approach everything with openness, honesty and transparency.”

The improvements will allow the city to serve any future Panasonic expansion and other development at Ad Astra, as well as other commercial, industrial and residential development along the Lexington Avenue/K-10 corridors west of what is now mostly rural west De Soto, Brungardt said.

“Without a doubt, this will serve Panasonic, future development at Sunflower and beyond,” he said.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Work continues on the Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto in September 2023.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Work continues on the Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto in September 2023.

De Soto didn’t land Panasonic on its own, of course — the company’s decision to locate the plant in the K-10 corridor came from negotiations the company had with the state that concluded with the announcement in July 2022 of a $829 million incentive package for the project. But De Soto had taken a number of steps the previous two decades that put it in a better position to respond to this opportunity, Brungardt said.

De Soto has been a stakeholder at the old Sunflower plant since the federal government disposed of the property in 2005. With that, the city took possession of one of the old World War II-era water plants that supplied Sunflower during its heyday. At the same time, De Soto secured the 12 wells along the Kansas River that supplied the water plant, the water rights associated with them and a utility easement connecting Sunflower to the river. The Sunflower water plant has been De Soto’s sole source of water for more than a decade.

Brungardt said the Panasonic development agreement would increase the water plant’s production capacity from about 2 million gallons per day to 8 million gallons per day. That will easily satisfy the city’s current peak capacity needs of about 1 million gallons daily and the projected needs of the Panasonic plant of 1.5 million gallons a day.

De Soto will also upgrade the wells along the Kansas River that supply the water plant, Brungardt said.

In the early 2000s, the city built a new sewer plant in rural west De Soto in anticipation the city would grow in that direction, Brungardt said. That would end up being a good bet. The plant is close to the utilities easement that connects the Kansas River to the Ad Astra property. Brungardt said that would decrease easement acquisition costs associated with the new sewer line to Ad Astra.

As for the expansion of the sewer plant itself, the agreement with Panasonic will raise its capacity from 1.3 million to 2.6 million gallons a day, Brungardt said. Panasonic is projected to discharge 600,000 gallons of wastewater daily.

De Soto was ahead of the curve in regard to the redevelopment of Sunflower, Brungardt said. It was always the city’s view that the old Sunflower plant should be reserved for industrial development, he said. That was very different from the “Community in a Park” comprehensive plan Johnson County approved for Sunflower when the county was considering the World of Oz theme park in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That county land-use plan, which sliced Sunflower into areas of residential, commercial, civic and light industrial zoning, remained on the books until De Soto undertook two annexations of what is now the Ad Astra site in the last year.

There are other annexations that De Soto undertook in the last two decades that prepared it to take advantage of the Panasonic opportunity and the growth it will spark. In the early 2000s, De Soto annexed land several miles to the east and west of the old city core that surrounds Lexington Avenue off K-10. The western city limits is Evening Star Road, a mile east of the Douglas County line. The city followed up with new land-use designations for properties between the Lexington Avenue/103rd Street and K-10 corridors, as well as elsewhere in the newly annexed lands.

“We’ve shown for decades now that area north of 103rd Street (west of Ad Astra) transitioning from rural residential to light industrial,” he said. “Development is just starting.”

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Special to the Journal-World

The 4.7 million-square-foot Flint Commerce Center at the intersection of Edgerton Road and 103rd Street is pictured in this September 2023 aerial photo.

That new development is the 4.7-million-square-foot Flint Commerce Center at the intersection of Edgerton Road and 103rd Street. Brungardt said it was inevitable that the Panasonic development would drive more development in De Soto, as well as Eudora, Lawrence and elsewhere in the area.

“We know the Panasonic facility will bring 4,000 direct jobs and another 4,000 indirect ones,” he said. “We expect part of the housing demand to be taken up by other communities. We are looking at a labor shed with a radius of 30 miles. That includes Lawrence. These jobs are going to be good enough that employees will be willing to commute 29 miles.”

As for De Soto, the initial housing interest has been from developers of multi-family housing, Brungardt said.

“Since the Panasonic announcement, we’ve had applications for 2,000 apartment units that are somewhere in the planning pipeline,” he said. “We don’t expect that many to be built, but that’s we’ve seen. So yes, our initial residential interest is multi-family.”

Brungardt said it’s his sense that De Soto residents welcome the Panasonic development and the good-paying technology and manufacturing jobs it will bring. For many, the development is reminiscent of the opportunities Sunflower brought to the community when it opened in World War II, he said.

“If you talk to people who have been in De Soto long enough, they … remember stories of when there were 15,000 people working at the plant with good-paying jobs in advanced manufacture, and a small town of De Soto with 1,400 people that had a hardware store, two grocery stores.”

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Downtown De Soto is pictured in September 2023.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Downtown De Soto is pictured in September 2023.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.