Construction of a controversial downtown Overland Park office/entertainment complex is expected to begin this fall, after the City Council approved tax incentives and an unprecedented 2 percent sales tax to support the development.
"I'm really excited," developer Tim Barton said after the Council's votes Monday night to support financial incentives for the $53.8 million Edison OP project.
The proposal has generated considerable debate about the changing character in downtown Overland Park, especially over increased density, traffic, parking shortages and noise. But Barton said he has listened and responded to public suggestions and concerns that he thought led to a better project.
Edison OP calls for a five-story office building at the southwest corner of 80th and Marty streets, a first-floor food hall in that building, a public courtyard, a one-story renovated building for a restaurant on Marty Street, a surface parking lot, and a four-story parking garage at the northwest corner of 81st and Marty streets.
The proposal involves demolishing part of a strip shopping center on 80th Street and the newer portion of the closed Overland Park Presbyterian Church. The original 1920s church front will remain.
Barton said it will attract about 400 office workers and entrepreneurs who will improve downtown's vitality, even creating a potential employment center for some of downtown's new residents moving to high-rise apartments. He said the courtyard will have regular programming and is designed to attract families with lively nighttime entertainment and weekend events.
But some residents complained Monday night that all the new construction is hurting, not helping, existing small businesses and interfering with downtown's historic ambiance and quaint character.
"This is too much, too fast, down there," said Joan Norman, who lives nearby.
Diana Barnes, another downtown resident, questioned whether the city really requires yet another office building.
"I don't see the need for an office building in downtown Overland Park," she said. "It concerns me."
Demolition on an existing building within the project boundaries is expected to begin Aug. 1, and construction could begin this fall, with completion expected by October 2019.
The Council voted 11-0 in favor of a 20-year tax-increment financing plan to support construction of a $10.5 million parking garage with 429 parking spaces, including 24 spaces designated public at all times. The rest would be public after office hours and on weekends. Council members said it will provide much needed parking for downtown retail establishments and the city's Farmers' Market, especially on crowded Saturday mornings.
Some opponents said the parking shortage is most acute during weekdays, when most of the garage parking will be earmarked for office workers and is off limits to the public.
The Council also voted 8-3 in favor of a community improvement district which adds a 2 percent sales tax for up to 22 years on retail sales within the project. Other Overland Park CID developments have 1 percent or 1.5 percent sales taxes attached. This is the first time the council has approved 2 percent. It would bring the total sales tax within the project to 11.1 percent. That extra tax is expected to generate about $3.8 million over 22 years to help with the project financing.
Council members Logan Heley, Gina Burke and Faris Farassati opposed the community improvement district and sales tax increase, which they felt was excessive.
Farassati said he didn't think the project was so special that it should warrant that unprecedented level of sales tax increase.
"I don't see unique characteristics," he said. "It just doesn't give me enough evidence to support it."
But Curtis Petersen, a lawyer for the development, said that 2 percent sales tax was essential to making the project financing work.
Councilman Dave White said he had initially been philosophically opposed to a 2 percent sales tax request. Then he realized that if people don't want to pay it, they don't have to patronize Edison OP's retail establishments. He felt so strongly that Edison OP was a unique and positive asset for downtown that he concluded, "I will swallow my opposition."
A council majority — including Curt Skoog, Paul Lyons, Fred Spears and Mayor Carl Gerlach — said they considered Edison OP to be an essential ingredient to downtown's ongoing success, and to the realization of the 2008 Vision Metcalf plan.
Kat Lyman, co-owner of Crescent Springs, a longtime small business that has weathered downtown Overland Park's ups and downs, worried about where her customers will park during all the construction commotion.
She said the parking garage eventually will help, but in the meantime, "we'll lose street parking until it's done."
Overland Park Planning and Development Director Jack Messer conceded, "These are tight construction sites and they do introduce difficulties."
But Petersen said that, eventually, the project will provide more than 100 spaces available at all times to the public, from the garage, a 37-space surface lot and 52 on-street spots.
Council members sympathized with the small business concerns but said the eventual benefits will far outweigh the construction disruptions.
"It's short term pain," Spears said, "for long-term gain."