Cerner Corp. officials cut the blue ribbon on their new office campus in western Wyandotte County on Thursday, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback hinted that more office projects may be ahead for the burgeoning destination.
The first of the two eight-story buildings on the Village West campus near Interstate 435 and I-70 already houses more than 1,000 Cerner employees. New staff is expected to begin occupying the second building early next year.
A total of 4,000 new jobs are expected to fill the 660,000-square-foot complex. Mike Nill, Cerner’s chief operating officer, said the booming health care giant now has 9,000 employees at three campuses in the metro area, part of a global workforce totaling 13,000 employees.
In addition to the new Village West “Continuous Campus,” Cerner has its headquarters in North Kansas City and another major operation in the former Marion Labs complex in south Kansas City. More than one-third of the health care data in the United States is processed at Cerner facilities in the area, the company says.
“That’s the job the individuals in this Continuous Campus facility provide,” Nill said.
Cerner also recently announced that it plans to develop an office campus on the site of the former Bannister Mall in south Kansas City that’s expected to employ up to 15,000 people when completed.
But on this day the spotlight was on Wyandotte County and the glimmering new Cerner buildings with stainless steel facades designed to resemble the pattern of human DNA. The offices are the latest addition to the 400-acre Village West district established by the county to take advantage of the opening of Kansas Speedway in 2001.
Since then, Village West has become a bustling regional destination that includes Nebraska Furniture Mart, Cabela’s, the Legends Outlets Kansas City shopping center, hotels, restaurants, CommunityAmerica Ballpark, Hollywood Casino and a new apartment development now under construction.
About 100 people attended the ceremony Thursday, including Cerner vice chairman Cliff Illig and top county and state elected officials.
The Cerner project was part of a $414 million development deal in 2010 that also brought the Sporting Park soccer stadium, home of Sporting Kansas City, to Village West. The development originally had been proposed for the former Bannister Mall property, but a deal could not be reached with Kansas City.
Brownback said the success of the Cerner office project has prompted interest in the Village West area from other companies.
“This campus made the landscape in this growth area for us,” Brownback said. “Because (Cerner) is locating here, we’re talking to a number of other groups wanting to locate here.”
Later the governor said: “We’re working a couple of nice, big projects” and “packages have been offered and put together.” He declined to identify the potential businesses other than to describe them as office and entertainment facilities.
Wyandotte County and the state, in the depths of the recession, invested more than $170 million in STAR bonds to help build the new projects. And now county officials are delighted that the investment is paying off more rapidly than expected.
Those bonds are being repaid by sales taxes generated by retail activity in Village West. About $60 million in sales taxes are expected this year, up from $40 million a few years ago when the Cerner and Sporting Park development was proposed.
Former mayor Joe Reardon and Dennis Hayes, county administrator for the Unified Government, said those bonds are projected to be repaid three years earlier than expected. That will yield $12 million in new revenues to the county and $40 million to the state beginning in 2017.
Coupled with the 4,000 new Cerner jobs, Reardon said the investment had paid off handsomely.
“When the decision was made to step forward with this, the economy was at its lowest and it was not an easy time to make that commitment,” Reardon said. “Finding a partner like Cerner that was willing to see our vision was the formula that brought us to success.”
The new Cerner buildings, designed by Gould Evans Associates of Kansas City, were described by Nill as having a “fresh, contemporary feel.” Architect Tony Rohr said Cerner wanted the stainless steel exterior panels in bronze and pewter hues to capture warm skin tones.
One of the more distinctive features of the buildings’ interior is the wood paneling made from trees cut down on the construction site.
Brownback inherited the Cerner and Sporting KC deal from his predecessor, Mark Parkinson, and said STAR Bonds were essential to making it work. The program diverts 100 percent of the new state and local sales taxes generated by a project to repay eligible costs.
“It was the fabulous growth opportunity, having high-paying jobs in the global marketplace,” Brownback said. “This checked all the boxes of what you wanted to see in the state.”
While the Cerner jobs were the core of the deal, having the new Sporting Park and major league soccer in Wyandotte County gave Kansas some bragging rights too.
“That’s our first and only major professional league team in the state,” Brownback said. “That was a big deal in and of itself. It fit in with the Kansas Speedway.
“Momentum is hard to create and then hard to stop.”