Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

City taps Towne Center developer

March 31, 2005

A Kansas City-based firm that developed or manages nearly 3 million square feet of retail space across the country is the new developer of record for the Towne Center project.

The Lansing City Council last week unanimously directed Mayor Kenneth Bernard to enter into a "developer of record" agreement with Kessinger/Hunter & Co. for the 32-acre project that is envisioned to be Lansing's new downtown. The Towne Center site stretches from West Mary Street to 4-H Road along the west side of Kansas Highway 7.

City officials hailed the move.

"The announcement of a developer of record for Towne Center is great news for the community," Bernard told an audience Saturday at a candidate forum sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

"I realize it's been a long time," he said. "We've been working on Towne Center now for four or five years. All those plans are just now starting to come to fruition."

Bernard's challenger in the mayor's race, Ward 4 Council member Harland Russell, echoed those sentiments.

"We're very excited to direct the mayor to sign the developer of record agreement," he said.

City Administrator Mike Smith said Kessinger/Hunter's first order of business would be to begin negotiations to purchase the property from David Christie, an Overland Park-based developer who has been working on the project the past several years. If those negotiations don't prove successful within 30 days, the city will begin condemnation proceedings to gain control of the property.

"If they don't come to an arrangement, the city will proceed to acquire the land," Smith said, referring to a possible property condemnation. "We do not want to go that route, but I don't feel like we have any options left. Neither does the council."

Christie had developed the Aldi's grocery store and the Lansing Heights apartment complex, and the city thought he could do the same with Towne Center. But Smith said in recent months it had become clear to city officials that Christie was not the answer to the development.

"The one thing that needs to be very clear: The last 18 months to two years, council has had many meetings on trying to get Dave Christie to develop this. The ideas and things he's brought forth have been supported by the mayor and all the council members - period. Now it's come to a time that some of these agreements are not panning out, and we're taking another course of action."

Once the city and/or Kessinger/Hunter gain control of the property, Kessinger/Hunter will have 180 days to sign up tenants and begin development of the site.

"We've had many talks with Kessinger/Hunter to the point that we're very comfortable because they're willing to sign a development agreement with a six-month timeline," Smith said. "Once they take control of the property, they will announce the stores that are going in there, and that's very exciting.

Smith said Kessinger/Hunter had previous experience with any number of retailers the city is interested in seeing in Towne Center.

"I believe they've worked with Targets, Kohl's, Circuit Citys, all the sit-down restaurants. They've worked with just about everybody," Smith said.

Though past efforts have focused on finding an anchor tenant for Towne Center, it may not necessarily be the case with Kessinger/Hunter, Smith said.

"There may be three main stores up there instead of just one large anchor store," he said. "Kessinger/Hunter will be working on that. Of course, just like before, the city has the right on tenant rights.

"In other words, anything that's going in there, the city is allowed to make that call. And that's because we want to make sure that Towne Center is something that's going very strong in 20 years."

Smith said he was certain Kessinger/Hunter would be successful. The only question, he said, was how long it would take to get control of the property. If the condemnation route must be taken, he said, it could add six months to the equation.

Still, Smith said Kessinger/Hunter was the one developer that was willing to absorb the city's legal costs should it have to go the condemnation route.

"If the city has to acquire the land, the city - this is very key - is paying no cost," Smith said. "This cost is all being transferred to Kessinger/Hunter. Not $1 will be spent by the city on acquiring the land."

For the city's part of the agreement, Smith noted it already had put $2 million in infrastructure improvements into Towne Center. It may be asked to pay for some additional site preparation work, parking or other improvements.

"But we're comfortable doing that because we've done that on other sites," he said.

The appointment of Kessinger/Hunter comes on the heels of the announcement by MidAmerican Bank that it would build a branch near 4-H Road and Main Street in Towne Center. The news, Smith said, should ease frustration in the community that development of Towne Center was taking too long.

"There've been opportunities to bring some business in here, but from the residents what they're tell us, it's not what they want," he said. "I'll say there have been businesses that have been brought to us; it's just not the kind that we want to see in the area. Nor do we want to bring in businesses that are going to hurt existing businesses in our community."

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