Government & Politics

Overland Park lowers expectations, agrees to car wash on blighted Metcalf site

A blighted site off Shawnee Mission Parkway likely won’t transform into the eye-catching gateway into Overland Park that city officials hoped for.

But the City Council agreed Monday to lower expectations and move ahead with new plans for the Metcalf Crossing site at 7240 Shawnee Mission Parkway, desperate to have two shuttered, crime-ridden hotels demolished. The council approved incentives and a new development plan, which includes the construction of a storage facility, office building and car wash.

“This project is a clear example of where we put efforts and try to help eliminate blight,” Councilman Faris Farassati said. “This area was significantly blighted and there were a number of police calls. Improvement in any shape, I think, is a good thing happening to that area. … Although it may not be the way we perceived it before, I believe it’s a significant improvement.”

Several council members have shared harsh words with developer Wes Grammer, who has been working to redevelop the 5-acre site that’s been an eyesore for years. They’ve been clear about their disappointment as demolition deadlines have been missed and original plans for the site have been thrown out.

Grammer initially proposed a $39 million commercial development, with a self-storage facility, restaurant and retail, plus a four-story hotel. In June 2018, the City Council approved nearly $6 million in incentives, through tax-increment financing and a 1% community improvement district sales tax levied on the site.

The City Council has emphasized it is providing incentives to rid the site of blight and demolish the deteriorating, and now empty, Knights Inn and Ramada hotels, which have both been magnets for crime.

But the developer’s plans have fallen through several times. Plans for retail and a hotel have been changed to an office building, with no planned tenants, and a car wash. That caused several officials to question whether they should incentivize such a project — especially at a site many felt had the potential to transform the look of Metcalf Avenue.

“I don’t think anyone is thrilled with having a car wash there,” Councilman Logan Heley said. “Originally, I held my nose at a storage facility because I was eager to get the blight removed. I hope Charlie’s Car Wash finds a fantastic location in northern Overland Park. But I believe this site deserves more. This corridor deserves more.”

When the developer announced last month he was on track to miss a third demolition deadline, council members seemed to have had enough, warning that the entire incentive deal could be thrown out. But worried the site will never be cleared, the council gave the developer another shot.

Monday night, council members approved a slightly different agreement, which cuts some of the incentive reimbursements and sets new deadlines.

The developer will get less money through tax increment financing — at most $2.5 million instead of $2.9 million. And funds the developer could get from the special sales tax were slashed to $1.7 million from the original $3 million.

“I think we’ve gotten the best deal we can,” Councilman Dave White said. “The developer gets none of the economic incentive money until they start building, and they start pushing cars through the car wash. Without that, they get nothing. What we get, at least we’re getting rid of the buildings, and at the very least we’ll get level green space.”

The developer now has until Nov. 30 to demolish the hotels. And Attorney Korb Maxwell, representing the developer, said demolition already has begun. Under the agreement, construction must begin by February.

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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.