Government & Politics

‘This is spiraling downward:’ OP questions if Metcalf blight will ever be fixed

When Overland Park officials last year approved tax incentives to revitalize a blighted area off Shawnee Mission Parkway, they expected to replace two crime-ridden motels with a new luxury hotel, restaurants and retail.

Instead, they’re getting a car wash.

City Council members called it the latest broken promise from the developer who pledged to clean up the Metcalf Crossing site, at 7240 Shawnee Mission Parkway, at the northwest corner of the intersection with Metcalf Avenue. The developer was supposed to demolish the two run-down motels by last December. But they’re still standing, empty.

And plans for a posh mixed-use development have dwindled to a new car wash and storage facility. As another missed deadline looms at the end of the month, a council committee may decide as early as next week whether to scrap the plan altogether.

“Had I known that this would have gone down this path, I would not have supported (tax incentives) for this,” Councilman Paul Lyons said at this week’s meeting. “This is not a project I would have wanted to provide incentives for.”

Some city leaders now doubt whether the project will ever get done. And Councilman Dave White said “all of the incentives are now in question.”

Developer Wes Grammer did not answer The Star’s requests for comment. His attorney, Korb Maxwell, said the project is proceeding, but the developer is requesting another extension on the demolition deadline.

“This was about remediating blight. We’re remediating blight,” Maxwell told The Star on Friday. “And we’re going to provide a high quality development that’s consistent with highway commercial uses and upgrades to the Shawnee Mission Parkway corridor from where it is today. That’s the focus of this deal.”

The key intersection, which some call a gateway into Overland Park, has been an eyesore for years. The Knights Inn and Ramada motels were magnets for crime, and two years ago, the City Council pulled the property’s special use permit that allowed them to operate.

“There were police calls there about drugs, prostitution and all kinds of stuff. So for us, there was a real incentive if somebody would come in and build something new there,” White told The Star.

The Ramada and Knights Inn motels at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park were closed years ago and were supposed to be demolished to make way for new development. But they are still standing, empty. Chris Ochsner

In June 2018, the City Council approved nearly $6 million in incentives for the revitalization of the 5-acre site. Sky Real Estate LLC agreed to build a $39 million commercial development, to include a self-storage facility, three restaurant or retail buildings, plus a four-story hotel.

Some council members had reservations about allowing a self-storage facility so close to a residential area but approved the project in an effort to rid the site of blight.

The plan included nearly $3 million in development reimbursement through tax increment financing, or TIF, as well as more than $3 million raised through a 1% community improvement district sales tax levied on the site over more than 20 years.

By last fall, the project already was starting to crumble. Grammer was struggling to attract tenants, and Maxwell, his attorney, told the council a new hotel was out of the question. Plans changed to include an office building instead.

But as the months passed, the dilapidated motels remained standing. The council has since agreed to extend the demolition deadline twice. The next deadline is Sept. 30. Lyons questioned whether another extension would be worth it.

“I’m seeing the water swirling in the drain in the sink,” Councilman Richard Collins said. “And so I’m wondering if this is going to get any worse.”

Council members’ disappointment grew stronger when they learned the developer is now proposing to build a five-stall Charlie’s Car Wash, rather than shops or restaurants.

“I am very disappointed with the way this has transpired,” Lyons said. “I have no faith at all that an office building will be built. It makes no sense to put an office building on this site based on what’s going to be there. I can’t see an office tenant wanting to move next to a storage facility and car wash.”

Curtis Holland, another attorney representing the developer, said the team is working to make the project come to fruition, though he has no potential tenants for an office building yet.

“With any development, there are no guarantees,” he told the council. “But the office is still part of our plan, and we intend to move forward with it. We’re going to actively market it to develop the site.”

But Councilman Fred Spears said he is “significantly less than enthusiastic.”

“This is spiraling downward for one of the entrances to the city.”

In hearing the latest changes, White said, “I just blew my top.”

He worries the Metcalf Crossing project could turn into another Mission Gateway — a site roughly three miles east on Shawnee Mission Parkway. The land once housed Mission Mall and has been vacant for more than a decade. The developer claims work is finally starting, but residents are increasingly skeptical.

At the very least, White said, under the agreement, the Metcalf developer will be required to create green space. That paints a similar picture to the one in Mission.

And many council members said this was not the project they expected to see when they approved incentives two years ago.

“I hope Charlie’s Car Wash finds a wonderful location somewhere else in our city, hopefully in Ward 1. But I don’t feel like this is a good use,” said Councilman Logan Heley, who represents the city’s northernmost ward. “I’m worried the gateway entrance to our city is going to say self-storage and $8 car washes: Welcome to Overland Park.”

On Wednesday, the Finance, Administration and Economic Development Committee will reconsider deadlines and incentives for the project.

Under the current development agreement, the incentives would reimburse the developers for part of the cost of buying the property, demolishing the existing buildings and preparing the site for new construction. The funds are paid as the developers incur costs, so they would reap the full benefits only if they complete the project.

White said redoing the entire development agreement could be on the table.

“It’ll be a tough decision Wednesday night. I don’t know what’s going to come out of it. If we jerk some of the incentives, that might make the whole project collapse financially,” White said. “Then we could be stuck with what we’ve got. We might have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

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Sarah Ritter covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. Formerly a reporter for the Quad-City Times, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.