Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tour highlights case for building land inventory

By TOMMY FELTS, Herald Managing Editor | 6/21/2013

LAWRENCE — “It’s a huge, upfront investment,” Diane Stoddard said, motioning toward an area east of Lawrence that looked more like barren, rolling hills than a multimillion-dollar development project.

Situated along K-10, the Farmland Business Park is a massive work in progress, Stoddard, Lawrence assistant city manager, said Thursday. The 500-acre plot of land, described by local economic development officials as a “former eyesore,” previously was home to the Farmland fertilizer plant, which went bankrupt in 2001. Today, it’s being redeveloped from a polluted wasteland into usable space and pad sites for new industries.

LAWRENCE — “It’s a huge, upfront investment,” Diane Stoddard said, motioning toward an area east of Lawrence that looked more like barren, rolling hills than a multimillion-dollar development project.

Situated along K-10, the Farmland Business Park is a massive work in progress, Stoddard, Lawrence assistant city manager, said Thursday. The 500-acre plot of land, described by local economic development officials as a “former eyesore,” previously was home to the Farmland fertilizer plant, which went bankrupt in 2001. Today, it’s being redeveloped from a polluted wasteland into usable space and pad sites for new industries.

Moving more than 1 million cubic yards of earth and prepping the land for development, however, comes at a cost.

“We’re probably going to be pushing $30 million,” Darron Ammann told a crowd of about 80 Franklin County community members, business leaders and city and county officials Thursday during a tour organized as part of the Franklin County Development Council’s annual Allies Day. Ammann, vice president and senior project manager for Bartlett and West, Topeka, said investing in infrastructure to make way for economic development always is a gamble.

“But what’s the cost of not doing anything?” Stoddard asked.

Franklin County officials are in the midst of the same conversation, Jeff Seymour, Franklin County Development Council executive director, said Thursday. Existing land inventory has filled up locally with officials discussing a lack of space at Ottawa’s Industrial Park on Davis Road and advocating for the development of a second industrial park.

“It’s a necessary, but expensive project,” Seymour said of the Farmland Business Park. “But Lawrence has been very creative in making it happen.”

Land for the Lawrence development came to the city for free after Farmland’s bankruptcy, Stoddard said, but it wasn’t immediately clear what should be done with the property. Having sustained pollution from the nitrogen fertilizer plant since the 1950s, she said, the key to finding a new use for the land required the city to mitigate the polluted soil as part of the redevelopment process.

In addition, the need for the revitalized property to be creative, flexible and unique helped shape plans for developing the business park, Ammann, who serves on the Franklin County Development Council’s board, said.

The transportation benefits offered by nearby K-10 and the future Southwest Lawrence Trafficway play into those plans, he said, just as Ottawa’s proximity to U.S. 59, K-68 and I-35 should be factored into Franklin County’s development.

“Whether you’re in Lawrence or Franklin County, you’ve really got to think big and flexible,” Ammann said.

Anticipating potential business’ and industries’ wants and needs is a challenge, Stoddard, who worked for the City of Ottawa from May 1994 to March 1996 as an administrative intern and later an administrative assistant, told the Franklin County crowd. Such possible tenants want sites ready-built with utilities and everything in place, she said, emphasizing that new businesses rarely are willing to wait on development. Adding to the difficulty, industries often want those ready-to-go sites to fit their exact specifications, she said.

Still, Stoddard said, communities should be proactive in reaching out to businesses and developing with the future in mind.

“All these opportunities are going to be floating by if you don’t have any land inventory,” she said.

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