Archive for Thursday, March 16, 2006

De Soto conjures bid to be new home of Kansas City Wizards soccer club

March 16, 2006

De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson hopes a soccer complex in a suburb north of Dallas could be the model for a future home of the Kansas City Wizards in De Soto.

Anderson confirmed De Soto was among Johnson County cities responding to an invitation from Major League Soccer and Hunt Sports Group to submit preliminary information on where a soccer complex could be built. The cities were asked to propose 220-acre sites for a 20,000-seat stadium, 17 championship quality youth fields and 30 to 50 acres of commercial development.

Anderson said he, De Soto Economic Development Council Executive Director Sara Ritter and members of city staff would meet late Thursday with representatives from MLS.

Other cities known to have submitted sites are Gardner, Overland Park, Olathe and Lenexa.

Anderson, Ritter, and three others from De Soto were among a Johnson County delegation to visit Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas, the home of another Lamar Hunt owned MLS team, FC Dallas. They saw an $80 million complex with a 21,000-seat stadium and 17 youth field -- much like what the MLS and Hunt team would like to see built somewhere in Johnson County.

From what he saw in Frisco, Anderson said it was easy to visualize the complex in De Soto.

"It's a parallel town to De Soto," he said. "There's an old, established old town, and then across the railroad out near the highway is this new thing.

"It's 30 minutes from Love Field. De Soto is 30 minutes from KCI. It's almost eerily similar."

Like Frisco, De Soto is connected to the urban centers via a freeway. Easy access from Kansas Highway 10 would seem to be one of De Soto's strengths, Anderson said. Another trait De Soto shared with Frisco could also be to its benefit, Anderson said. There are large amounts of available relatively flat land near De Soto that could be bought much cheaper than in the larger cities, he said.

"The thing we offer is a large open or undeveloped area," Anderson said. "If you have a game or concert, there will be no neighbors to complain about the lights, no neighbors to complain about the noise, no neighbors to complain about the traffic.

"You can be close to a developed area in Johnson County with a lot of hotels or whatever, or you can create that."

That could be important, Johnson said. The Frisco complex was built with Hunt Sports Group contributing $25 million, the city and county each putting up $20 million and the local school district secured passage of a $15 million bond issue for a smaller soccer stadium at the site it was considering for elsewhere.

De Soto doesn't have that kind of money to throw around, Anderson said. But he said county cities agree there will be no bidding war.

In Anderson's view, the principal public financing tool would be STAR bonds, which would allow the developer to divert sales tax revenue to paying off development costs. That would enhance De Soto's advantage of giving the development team a chance to expand on the commercial possibilities of the site.

"We're saying, 'Here's a blank sheet of paper; fill it," he said. "What better could a developer ask for?"

Ritter saw the De Soto's location on the county's western fringe as an asset not liability. It would open opportunities to the complex beyond the metropolitan Kansas City and suburban Johnson County, she said.

"Our message is we are associated with that but we also tap into Lawrence, KU and Topeka," she said.

One final plus for De Soto is the abundance of water the city could make available to irrigate thirsty soccer fields during a hot Kansas summer, Anderson said.

Many of the cities involved haven't disclosed the sites they've submitted, and Anderson is not revealing the site De Soto proposed.

However, Anderson conceded the only place in or near De Soto where abundant undeveloped acres of relatively flat land with K-10 access can be found is west of the city and south of K-10. It is the same area the city is currently updating its future land-use plan.

That is coincidental, Anderson said. The update has been planned for more than a year while the stadium possibility only popped in the past two months. Other developments, including the 500 acres Kansas University on the northwest shoulder of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant that is tapped for a bio-science research park, would drive development of the area regardless of what happens with the stadium, the mayor said.

Proposed sites that have been identified Include:

¢ The southwest corners of 159th Street and U.S. Highway 69 in Overland Park.

  • The K-10/Renner Road intersection in Lenexa.
  • Property on both sides of the state line near 135th Street in Leawood and Kansas City, Mo.

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