An ice hockey arena – a controversial element of the BluHawk development – has been removed from the development planned for 159th Street and U.S. Highway 69 in southern Overland Park. In its place will be a multi-sport area called the “sports forum.”
A revised preliminary plan removing ice sheets from the proposal and scaling back other areas was approved unanimously by the Overland Park City Council Monday night. The space-themed Cosmosphere museum, however, is still included in the plan.
The revised plan for the Price Brothers development also calls for a retail space that is smaller in square footage and more open, according to the city staff notes on the proposal. Retail space, which had been planned for 1.2 million square feet in the original proposal, has been reduced to 823,351 square feet – the second reduction since the plan was introduced.
The changes concern only a part of the 300-acre development, but it is a crucial part for tourism. The developers have applied for sales tax and revenue (STAR) bonds, a type of financing that allows some development costs to be paid from future sales tax revenue.
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The hockey arena had been a key part of the plan. About a year ago, developers proposed to put a 7,500-seat arena in the project. At about the same time, they began talking about the site as a potential home for a United States Hockey League team. The USHL is an amateur league that has been a recruiting ground for professional hockey, including the Kansas City Mavericks.
Neighbors, however, were not on board with the hockey plan in particular. They organized and turned out by the dozens at council and planning commission hearings, saying the hockey fans would create a traffic hazard for nearby streets and could block up traffic on the already-busy arterials. They also began to wonder whether the Mavericks professional team was considering a move to Overland Park from its Independence home arena. Mavericks representatives have said such a move was not in their plan.
None of those neighbors was at the meeting Monday night, nor was anyone who could directly answer questions about the reasons for removal of the ice. However the Kansas City Mavericks did issue a statement saying the hockey partnership was being dropped because it was no longer considered a “good fit.”
“Lamar Hunt Jr., Loretto Sports Ventures LLC and the Kansas City Mavericks remain fully committed to growing youth, amateur, and professional hockey in the Kansas City region,” the statement noted.
“After careful consideration, it was determined that while BluHawk is going to be an outstanding addition to Johnson County, the development was not the best fit for expansion in the southern Johnson County area. Loretto Sports Ventures LLC has been working diligently with other developers and members of the hockey community to create a project that will be exciting as well as the right fit to continue the success the (Kansas City Youth Hockey Association) and the Mavericks have had in growing hockey in Kansas City. We hope to have an announcement very soon.”
The latest plans indicate a slight rebranding of the sports part of the project. The overall theme is “exploration and innovation” according to the STAR bond application. The “sports forum” would be an area of 200,000 square feet with multiple indoor courts that could draw regional and national basketball, volleyball, soccer or futsal tournaments as well as a wide variety of smaller sports, which the application listed. Missing was any mention of ice hockey.
The forum would also include extreme air sports, a trampoline park, climbing wall and ropes course.
“The developer’s goal in constructing the Sports Forum is to accommodate the programming needs of the area school districts and their sports teams, as well as to draw visitors from outside the region and state to Overland Park for tournament play,” the application said. Developers also want to create a community gathering space themed around sports and health.
The plan change also includes a smaller, 83,000-square-foot arena with no ice sheets.
The $265 million project would still include 60,000 square feet for a branch of the Hutchinson, Kan.-based Cosmosphere museum with no size reduction. The details of that include a 4D theater, artifacts of the history of space travel and “Rubik’s rooms” in which guests must use critical thinking and teamwork to solve the puzzle of finding a way out.
The retail area has been downsized by about 380,000 square feet from the original BluHawk proposal. The layout was changed to make the area more walkable and pedestrian friendly, according to city documents.
The developers have asked for $93.1 million in STAR bonds funding. That financing plan still needs approval by the state and city council before it could become reality.