December 9, 2013

Fate of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last piece of Bannister puzzle

With the Bannister Federal Complex to be torn down in 2016, all but one federal agency there have a new local home, and city officials are working to keep the 80 well-paid employees at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration office as well.

Kansas City should breathe a huge sigh of relief that the old Bannister Federal Complex is expected to begin coming down in 2016, and by late 2017 the site should be ready for new development.

The fate of that 5.1 million-square-foot brick monster, after all the federal agencies and operations moved out, was a big concern to local officials and people living in the south Kansas City area. Too often, these old industrial behemoths are left to rot for decades, becoming a huge black eye of blight.

Think about another World War II relic in Kansas City, the Hardesty Federal Complex, abandoned and neglected now for more than a dozen years at 607 Hardesty Ave.

The Hardesty complex is only about one-tenth the size of Bannister, but its forlorn presence has been a big drag on that area of Independence Avenue. A redevelopment plan, however, is finally in the works by its new owner, Asian Americans for Equality.

No doubt, much environmental remediation work needs to be done before the 300-acre Bannister property is ready for new development.

CenterPoint Properties, the Chicago firm in line to receive a $175 million federal contract to demolish, clean up and redevelop the Bannister site, believes the problems are no worse than any other 1940s heavy-industry site. But others say the firm is vastly underestimating the scope of the toxic mess left from 70 years of manufacturing war material.

“I share the enthusiasm for the redevelopment of the Bannister Federal Complex and South Kansas City,” said Jason Klumb, regional administrator for the federal General Services Administration. “We have a responsibility to ensure the transfer of federal property is carried out in compliance with law and policy.

“This important process will take time. We will proceed as quickly, and as carefully, as we can to meet redevelopment expectations and our environmental responsibilities that we owe to Kansas City.”

What’s already been accomplished has been a substantial boost to the local economy. Since the Internal Revenue Service moved its processing facility to a new complex near Union Station in 2006, more than $1 billion in spinoff development has occurred to provide space for the federal operations gradually exiting Bannister.

More good news came Monday when the GSA announced its decision to put its 900 employees now at Bannister at the Two Pershing Square building at 2300 Main St. near Union Station.

Now, only one piece of the Bannister puzzle remains outstanding.

That’s the fate of the 80 highly-trained and well-paid employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA staff supports that National Weather Service by providing parts and repairing sophisticated weather, computer and radar equipment shipped here from all over the world.

The operation occupies 315,000 square feet at the Bannister Federal Complex. Agency officials in Washington expect to make a decision next spring on what’s next for NOAA now that Bannister is going out of business. The operation is expected to be in its new home by fall 2015.

Kansas City officials already are pressing the federal government to keep the NOAA operation here.

“We never want to lose jobs,” said Kansas City Councilwoman Cindy Circo, who has taken the lead on lobbying D.C. “They are a very highly skilled and very seasoned force that’s not replaceable. I think it’s important for them not to be transferred.”

Circo, who sent a letter a week ago to Kathryn Sullivan, acting administrator for NOAA, that was co-signed by several other council members, also said keeping the NOAA operation here would save the government money.

“Kansas City is a lot cheaper than either coast, and we have the space and transportation connections. There’s lots of compelling reasons for them to stay here.”

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