New face joins Sunflower project
A third partner has joined the redevelopment team at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant south of De Soto just as the first cleanup efforts visible from outside the plant are getting under way.
It was announced Wednesday, Prairie Center Investors LLC -- an entity formed by the Overland Park-based Midland Properties Inc. -- would join the Sunflower Redevelopment LLC partnership of Kansas City-based real estate firm Kessinger/Hunter and Co. and International Risk Group Inc. of Denver.
The original partners took possession of the 9,065-acre closed defense plant with the promise to clean it of pollution created from more than 40 years of propellant manufacturing and the commitment to make public benefit transfers totaling about 3,000 acres to the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District, Kansas University, Kansas State University, the city of De Soto and De Soto USD 232.
Midland Properties partnered with Kessinger/Hunter in the Riverside development in downtown Kansas City, Mo., according to a 2002 story in the Kansas City Business Journal.
"We welcome this strategic addition of long-time friends and partners to our redevelopment team. Because Prairie Center Investors LLC is locally based, they are as committed as we are to this long-term project that will create a beautiful Community in a Park in one of the most dynamic counties in America," Kessinger/Hunter chairman Chuck Hunter was quoted in a press release announcing Midland Properties joining the partnership.
The Johnson County Commission approved in 1998 the Community in a Park land-use plan for future Sunflower development. It envisions a mix of commercial, residential and a limited amount of light industrial uses surrounded by a horseshoe of Johnson County parkland.
Although Sunflower Redevelopment officials have said they would be true to the concept, details of its future development are to be developed in a master plan.
Search for master planner narrows
Sunflower Redevelopment executive director Kise Randall said a consultant should be named to do the master plan early next year.
"We've had a lot of responses from firms interested in doing this," she said. "We've narrowed that down to three.
It looks like we will interview in early January. We should have someone in place in late January."
Her best estimate was that it would take the chosen firm from 12 to 14 months to complete the master plan, Randall said.
Sunflower Redevelopment has already retained the services of the real estate market analysis firm Roberts Charles Lesser & Co. Randall said the firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., would help the Sunflower Redevelopment understand its place in the Kansas City metropolitan real estate market and look for opportunities the Sunflower site could exploit.
On the remediation front, Mikkel Anderson, principal with International Risk Group, said the partners' goal is to rid the plant of contamination in five years and not the seven first advertised.
However, he said Sunflower Redevelopment was behind schedule in the early going.
"The planning and approval process with the KDHE has taken us longer than expected," he said. "Because we're doing things on a faster pace and different scale than the Army, we're having to go over plans in great detail to provide assurance."
The level of Kansas Department of Health and Environment oversight should be comforting to the plant's neighbors, Anderson said, but it was also something Sunflower Redevelopment welcomed as the future developer of the property.
"As we've told the state and everyone else it is not to our benefit to miss anything," he said. "We are very interested that the state as the primary oversight entity is comfortable with results. I feel where we are right now we aren't likely to miss anything."
Early cleanup efforts have focused on explosive remediation, Anderson said. That includes removal of sewer pipes possibly containing explosive residue and -- as of Tuesday -- the burning of structures with the same risk.
The Army burned about 400 Sunflower buildings possibly contaminated with explosive residue and too dangerous to tear down during the late 1990s and early years of this decade before funding was discontinued.
Anderson said Sunflower Redevelopment burned Tuesday the first of about 100 remaining structures it plans to burn.
The burning of explosive-risk buildings has been replaced by wet demolition methods at other closed ammunition plants, but Anderson said several factors made the situation different at Sunflower.
"We don't have PCP in the paint issue they had at other plants," he said. "We tested. We don't have that problem.
"The propellants that were produced here are different than those produced at the other plants. They don't lend themselves to chemical neutralization technology."
Moreover, the types of structures on the Sunflower burn list had already been burned at other plants, Anderson said. And many were so unsound structurally that it would be hazardous to try to raze them stick-by-stick, he said.
Neighboring residents can be assured asbestos and other possible hazardous materials are removed before the structures are burned, Anderson said.
"We have really gone out of our way to take even the tiniest amount of potentially hazardous materials out of those buildings," he said.