Olathe council paves way for STAR bonds at former Great Mall of the Great Plains site

Demolition begins at Olathe's Great Mall of the Great Plains

Starting with the movie theaters, demolition of the Great Mall of the Great Plains began in July 2016.
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Starting with the movie theaters, demolition of the Great Mall of the Great Plains began in July 2016.

With no discussion and after receiving no public comments, the Olathe City Council on Tuesday agreed to create a giant STAR bonds district around the former site of the Great Mall of the Great Plains.

Council members voted 4-0 to establish the 270.5-acre district around the former mall, which is being demolished after closing in 2015. Three council members were absent from the meeting.

STAR bonds allow developers to use local and state sales taxes generated by a redeveloped property to pay off half the debt on the project. However, the project must be a tourism development expected to draw visitors from at least 100 miles away.

Such bonds have been used in Wyandotte County to help develop the Kansas Speedway, the Village West Shopping district and Children’s Mercy Park, as well as the Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park. Last month, state officials said STAR bonds could pay for up to half of the proposed $160 million American Royal complex near the Legends in Wyandotte County.

City officials said there are still no definitive plans to redevelop the Great Mall site. Instead, they said they are creating the district in case it’s needed for an actual project later.

“At this point, it’s still very early on in the process,” said city spokesman Tim Danneberg. I would certainly temper expectations. But we are putting ourselves in a position to move forward should the appropriate project come forward.”

The Kansas law establishing the STAR bond program is scheduled to expire next summer unless the state legislature renews it. Even if the program are reauthorized, state lawmakers have been unhappy with how the program has been used and will likely scrutinize future projects more strenuously.

The council also voted unanimously Tuesday to create a tax increment financing district for 102 acres in northeast Olathe – also with no definitive development plan in place.

The property’s owner, West Star Development, has not provided any firm plans for the land, which is currently the site of the Ridgeway Marketplace shopping center at South Ridgeview Road and W. 106th Street south of Kansas 10 Highway.

No one spoke for or against the district during a public hearing before the vote, and none of the council members commented on the proposal. City Attorney Ron Shaver said after the meeting that the city government spearheaded the tax increment financing district in hopes of attracting development to the long-vacant tract.

In tax increment financing, or TIF, the city can capture future gains in property, sales or other taxes generated by a redeveloped piece of property and use them to help pay off some of the developers’ costs.

Typically, they are accompanied by a detailed development plan explaining what the developer is planning and what types of expenses the revenue generated by the TIF district will pay off.

In this case, Shaver said the city wanted to go forward with approving the TIF district for the Ridgeview land before the end of the year so as to “lock in” the current property value, thereby making a future TIF more valuable. No development on the property can use the TIF funds without the council approving a development plan.

The city created a similar TIF district in 2003 covering retail space at Ridgeview Road and Santa Fe Street, but the area remains undeveloped and the TIF unused.

David Twiddy:

Other business

▪ The council voted to send a proposed mini-storage warehouse and retail business near 135th Street and Pflumm Road back to the planning commission to further refine the buildings’ architecture and determine a better way to use trees and vegetation to screen the business from nearby residents.

Councilmembers acknowledged that the 2.7-acre site, which is only 100 feet wide and sits between a Menards store to the west and a set of large storage tanks to the east, is difficult to develop. But they said the owner, Hooshang Pour, needed to keep working on it.

▪ The council also voted to shift city voting precincts 3-12 and 3-18 from Ward 3 to Ward 4 to keep the city’s districts equal in population. The change affects almost 4,000 residents.

The city is developing a campaign to reach out to the affected residents and plans to reevaluate its ward boundaries again following the 2020 census.