The new mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City Kan., wants to “hit the pause button” on his predecessor’s proposal to place a Healthy Campus in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
The campus, a longtime goal of former mayor Mark Holland, would combine a new YMCA with a grocery store, community center and housing development.
But David Alvey, who unseated Holland in November, said new cost information has come to light and county commissioners decided to take another look at the project.
“When they got the numbers, commissioners really felt we just need to hit the pause button on the healthy campus,” Alvey said. “At the same time there is a real commitment to answering the problem of lack of a grocery store in the northeast.”
The commission’s agenda for its meeting 7 p.m. Thursday now includes a recommendation from county administrator Doug Bach to “to modify current YMCA/grocery store development process to focus primary efforts on securing a grocery store for the downtown/northeast areas.”
Alvey said his preference is to “decouple” the grocery store portion from the YMCA.
“We have two different problems and if we uncouple them and move on them separately maybe we can make better progress,” Alvey said.
As recently as December, the commission had voted 9-1 to allocate $2 million to buy land for the $37 million Healthy Campus.
But Alvey said that money is retrievable and the only sunk costs so far are about $550,000 for planning.
Jon Stephens, the director of economic development for the UG, said that from his perspective the abrupt change in strategy had nothing to do with the city getting a new mayor.
“From my role in economic development, this is just good due diligence in making sure we’re effectively spending taxpayer dollars,” Stephens said.
Stephens said the Wyandotte Health Foundation, which has committed $1 million in grant money for the Healthy Campus, was briefed on the change and is still on board if the campus components are pursued separately.
But Cathy Harding, the foundation’s president and CEO, said she didn’t know about the plan until Wednesday afternoon and it was too soon to say what will become of the $1 million if they’re uncoupled.
“That has not been presented to our board of directors, so I can’t say one way or the other how our board would act on that request,” Harding said.
The Greater Kansas City YMCA has raised more than $11 million in charitable donations for its portion of the project.
YMCA spokeswoman Paula Oxler said the organization does not think its plans will be derailed at Thursday’s meeting.
“To our knowledge, Mayor Alvey has expressed that any discussions about the UG’s Healthy Campus initiative in no way preclude building a YMCA or community center,” Oxler said.
Alvey said plans for a new YMCA are still in the works, but he and Bach want to pursue the grocery store separately because they believe they will be able to move on it more quickly that way.
He said new grocery store operators have expressed interest in recent weeks and his goal is to find one that can be self-sustaining downtown after the UG helps it get up and running.
“The worst thing that could happen is we would not be able to continue to sustain the stop-loss for an urban grocery and we would have to shut it all down again,” Alvey said.