Overland Park project seeking $610 million in taxpayer money requires much more scrutiny

A taxpayer-backed mixed development could replace Brookridge Golf and Fitness.
A taxpayer-backed mixed development could replace Brookridge Golf and Fitness. The Kansas City Star

Barely three months ago, a developer bought Brookridge Golf and Fitness in Overland Park. Curtin Property Co. pledged to “make a thoughtful decision with a clear long-term focus” for reusing the property.

Those plans didn’t take long at all to get to city officials, arriving in late November. The price tag for redevelopment includes by far the largest taxpayer subsidy request in Overland Park history — $610 million to help finance a $2.4 billion mixed-use project featuring office buildings, retail, hotels and a performance venue.

City Council members on Monday acquiesced to the developer’s first wish by creating a redevelopment district and a Kansas sales tax revenue bonds district for the area northeast of Antioch Road and Interstate 435. That makes the project eligible for taxpayer help.

Before any dollars are allocated, however, a number of crucial questions must be answered.

Overland Park officials are headed in the proper direction. City Manager Bill Ebel said Thursday the city will oversee an economic feasibility analysis of the project. That is essential given the size of the undertaking and the potential risk of an unwise investment for taxpayers.

Questions include how many jobs it might create and how many out-of-town visitors it would really attract; whether retail stores would achieve the high rate of sales claimed in the developer’s proposal; and how this project could affect other nearby developments, including a redo of the Metcalf South area.

In Topeka, state officials will have to decide whether cash-strapped Kansas can really afford to provide a subsidy of more than $100 million for yet another retail/office complex proposed in the affluent county.

In addition, the Shawnee Mission School District and Johnson County officials should be held accountable for reviewing the project. The school district and the county can veto creation of the redevelopment districts.

The proposed project is essentially a Prairiefire on steroids: It’s requesting far more in taxpayer subsidies than the recently opened mixed-use center at 135th Street and Nall Avenue received. Whether the new development deserves that much public help must be thoroughly vetted.