Shawnee & Lenexa

A look back at Sunflower Ordnance

Updated: 2013-08-27T21:39:58Z

By DIANE STAFFORD

The Kansas City Star

The history of the now-gone Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, located on the outskirts of DeSoto, will be featured at an upcoming presentation and exhibit by the Johnson County Museum.

Museum curators Anne Jones and Matt Gilligan will speak at 2 p.m. Sept. 8 at the downtown Kansas City Public Library, 14 W. 10th St. The museum’s Sunflower exhibit opens Sept. 20 at 6305 Lackman Road, Shawnee.

The sprawling 14-square-mile Sunflower complex — about the size of Leawood — was built in 1942 and geared up fast to become the world’s largest producer of smokeless gunpowder and propellants for small arms, cannons and rockets.

Also known as the Sunflower Ordnance Works, the federal facility south of Kansas 10 took nearly 10,000 acres of Johnson County farmland. On it, the Army built nearly 3,000 buildings where about 12,000 people worked during World War II.

The plant went on standby after the war ended, but ammunition production later resumed and continued until 1992. In 1997, the federal government designated the complex as surplus government property and looked for buyers. To make way for re-use, the Army burned hundreds of buildings in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Civilian development plans, including a proposed Land of Oz theme park, ensued. Johnson County commissioners rejected the theme park plan in 2001.

Another plan called for the area to become a multi-use housing and commercial development, but that proposal ran into trouble because of the cost of environmental cleanup of explosives residues, arsenic, lead and mercury, and other toxins in the soil.

The county in 2005 approved Sunflower Redevelopment LLC, a joint venture of International Risk Group and Kessinger/Hunter, a Kansas City area real estate company, as the redeveloper. But that plan was held up after the Army spent more than $100 million on site cleanup but declined to foot the bill for an estimated $100 million more.

To reach Diane Stafford, call 816-234-4359 or send email to stafford@kcstar.com.

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