Archive for Thursday, July 31, 2003

Gov. wants research role for Sunflower

July 31, 2003

For the last eight months, Micheline Burger has been pitching a proposal that would develop a life science research park at the closed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
As it turns out, one of those listening to the president of Taxpayers Offering Tomorrow's Opportunities Inc. was Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Last Thursday, the governor signed a preliminary Finding of Suitability for Early Transfer for Sunflower while calling for the creation of a research park on the site. The governor and her staff had be studying the proposal since shortly after Sebelius took office in January.
In a statement announcing the signing of the so-called FOSET, Sebelius said she signed the document to keep the Sunflower transfer process moving forward.
"The Sunflower site, which comprises 9,000 acres of undeveloped land, has enormous potential for Johnson County, the greater Kansas City region, and the state of Kansas. It is important that we keep this process moving, so this land can be cleaned up and put to good use. Sitting idle, it does us no good."
Sebelius' chief legal counsel Matt All said the preliminary FOSET was specific to Kessinger/Hunter and Co.'s redevelopment proposal for Sunflower. But he said its signing was more of an engagement than a marriage.
"It doesn't rule anything out," All said. "Right now, the current plan we inherited involved Kessinger/Hunter. There are a lot of things Kessinger/Hunter needs to do to get this thing done."
"It contemplates Kessinger/Hunter but doesn't bind us to that ultimately."
An "I do" between the governor and the developer would be arrived at through the development of additional documents. Those include a final FOSET that puts details to the Kessinger/Hunter redevelopment plan, All said.
In June 2002, then-Gov. Bill Graves announced the formation of a four-person committee to negotiate the early transfer of Sunflower to Kessinger/Hunter. The Kansas City, Mo., developer and its financial partner, Cherokee Partners of Raleigh, N.C., announced they had $50 million for the cleanup of solid waste contamination at Sunflower and would not require tax incentives to accomplish the transfer or environmental cleanup.
If the Kessinger/Hunter proposal is to move forward, the governor must sign a final FOSET allowing the federal government to transfer the plant before all solid waste sites are cleaned. In last week's statement, Sebelius asked residents to "think creatively" about how Sunflower could best be used and provide comment to the governor's office.
Sebelius statement indicated the creativity of the TOTO proposed impressed her.
"I will continue to work toward a final plan for Sunflower that would devote a significant portion of the site to a life sciences research park. A research park, as part of a larger development, would be an engine of growth for the region for decades to come. It would attract creative, talented people to our region and create jobs not only for today's workers, but also for our children and grandchildren," her statement read.
Chief legal counsel All said part of the task of developing a final FOSET would be exploration of how a developer could profitably develop a research park in coordination with other land uses.
"That's one of the governor's top priorities," he said. "Something that will create jobs not only today but in the future."
Although she acknowledged she couldn't quantify what Sebelius meant by "significant portion," Burger said she was encouraged by the governor's comments.
"I've meet with the governor's office several times about the research park idea," Burger said. "I'm very glad to see they continue to be interested in at least having a significant part of that plant developed into a research park.
"That should signal to the Johnson County Commission and any other party interested that it needs to be a part of any development plan."
As proposed by TOTO, 6,000 of Sunflower's 9,065 acres would be set aside for both a research park and future campus shared by the state's regent schools and Johnson County Community College The remaining acreage would become parkland, including the 2,000 acres federal legislation has guaranteed the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Commission.

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