The majority of a Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., committee Monday advanced a proposal for an office park and light industrial development at the former Indian Springs Mall, despite reservations about the sales price for the 26-acre tract.
The Standing Committee on Economic Development and Finance voted 4-1 to advance Lane4 Property Group’s $25 million proposal to build 350,000 square feet of flex/tech office space and industrial development on the southern half of the former mall site. The plan now goes to the full Unified Government Commission.
David Alvey, an elected member of the Board of Public Utilities who also has a seat on the development and finance committee, voted against the proposal.
Alvey, who announced his candidacy for mayor this year, questioned why the Unified Government is selling the 26 acres for $750,000 to Lane4 when the public has invested $16 million buying and later demolishing the dead mall at Interstate 635 and State Avenue.
The Unified Government bought the Indian Springs Mall in 2007 for more than $8 million. The Unified Government later spent money improving the property before deciding to tear it down for redevelopment, bringing the public’s spending on Indian Springs Mall to $16 million.
Alvey said: “$750,000 for a site we’ve already invested $16 million in ... is almost handing it over for free.”
Hunter Harris, a principal with Lane4, said the sale price was what the financing of the project would support.
“There’s nothing sinister about this type of number,” Harris told commissioners.
Lane4 was hired in 2014 to act as the Unified Government’s broker for a developer to take a chance at redeveloping the mall. No opportunities turned up for two years, and now Lane4 is behind a development proposal for a portion of the property.
That dynamic drew questions from Jim Walters, a Unified Government commissioner on the development and finance committee.
“It’s like Dick Cheney heading the vice presidential selection committee and he found himself,” Walters said, referring to the way the former vice president became George W. Bush’s running mate in 2000.
Doug Spangler, a former city administrator for Edwardsville and a former Kansas representative, criticized the Unified Government administration’s handling of the mall.
“Indian Springs has been so badly mishandled by the administration, not the politicians, it’s terrible,” Spangler told County Administrator Doug Bach at Monday’s meeting. “We have over $16 million in public money and under this proposal, your calculation only recovers $259,000 a year. That’s totally unacceptable. I would take it back to the drawing board.”
The Lane4 proposal seeks a 75 percent property tax abatement. Unified Government records predict the project would still generate $1.17 million in property taxes over 10 years.
Harris said there is a potential tenant for part of the proposed development, but he would not divulge which company, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Ann Brandau-Murguia, a Unified Government commissioner whose district includes Argentine, did not vote on Lane4’s proposal. Brandau-Murguia cited longstanding frustrations about a proposed fast-food project in Argentine that has not been placed on an agenda for an up-or-down vote for almost a year.
She said she will not vote for any development projects until she gets an explanation for why the $3.5 million fast-food development in Argentine, which would be funded partially through a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has not been voted upon.
“I’m not voting for one more project in any other district — I’m not voting to fill a pothole — until I either get a reason why that development deal is not on the agenda or is placed on the agenda,” Brandau-Murguia said. “And any commissioner up here who votes against that project, I’m going to make it very public how that deal, that offer, is a better deal than 90 percent of the other deals that get unanimous votes in wealthier areas with people that have needs and political pull.”
She then abruptly left the meeting.