Once there was life at the northeast corner of Quivira Road and 75th Street: a DSW shoe warehouse, a K & G Men’s Superstore, a Dillon’s grocery, a Borders Express bookstore.
Now the Westbrooke Village Shopping Center is a virtual ghost town, 28 acres occupied by only six tenants.
The 90-percent vacant shopping center — Shawnee’s second largest — has been a sore spot in the city’s economy since at least 2006. Now an anonymous big box retailer has expressed interest in locating there.
The Shawnee City Council is being asked to support an agreement that sets up a framework for developing the site, arranging a special taxing district for public funding and brokering between the retailer and Starwood Property Trust.
The proposal was put before council members at a work session Tuesday by Andrew Nave, executive director of the Shawnee Economic Development Council. It breaks the development process into four steps, with the closing projected for February 2015. If followed all the way to completion, the city would pay MDDS Development LLC $300,000 to broker the details. The city would pay an estimated additional $85,000 for a blight study and legal fees.
MDDS Development is a team of local real estate developers including Matt Dennis and Jim Harpool, both of R.H. Johnson & Company, and Drew Snyder of Woodsonia Real Estate.
The retailer is part of a regional big-box chain but wants to stay nameless at this stage in a possible real estate deal, Nave said. Although it is preliminary, the plan Nave presented to the council anticipated that the new store would be about 160,000 square feet.
The center, which at about 240,000 square feet is the 14th largest in Johnson County, was built in the late 1980s. But in 2008 one of the anchors, a Dillon’s grocery store, closed. Fortunes have been declining ever since. The center has been especially troubled since 2011, Nave said. That year over half the space in the center went dark as several large stores closed.
That was also the year that some foreclosures began. Starwood Property Trust controls the property in the northern part of the center, which is where the new store would be located. The retailer in question does not want to buy the property out of foreclosure, Nave said.
The plan also anticipates that development would meet the city’s requirements for a Tax Increment Financing district, which would subsidize part of the development cost.
Nave warned that there are risks about the deals falling through. “The projects could stall for unforeseen reasons, but I don’t expect that to happen,” he said. But if it does, there are no provisions to recover the money the city spends on the agreement. However, Nave said the site plans and studies it generates could be reused in future marketing of the space.
Not everyone on the council was immediately on board. Councilman Neal Sawyer said the city should consider whether any new stores could succeed at that location. “It’s obvious retail didn’t work here, but we’re going to beat ourselves to death and start throwing away city money to start again,” he said. “I know nobody wants to hear it but maybe there’s too much retail in that area of town.”
Other council members expressed a willingness to consider it. Mickey Sandifer said he disliked the idea city financing but sees it as necessary to compete with other cities. And council member Dan Pflumm pointed out that the $385,000 to pay for the development agreement is only a little more than the city spends on restroom maintenance for its parks.
The idea of more businesses at Westbrooke makes at least one nearby family happy. Scott Reed can see the shopping center over his neighbors’ rooftops. Reed said after the meeting that he misses the vitality the center had in 2005, when he moved to the neighborhood.
“Now it’s a shame. Nothing’s there like it used to be,” said Reed.
The council members voted to pass the plan on to the April 28 regular council meeting without recommendation.