A big vision for urbanism in Lenexa is getting a boost after several setbacks.
The firm Perceptive Software has filed an application with the Lenexa Planning Commission seeking to buy up to 16 acres of city-owned land and erect two office buildings for more than 600 employees. The company would inject millions into the area.
"That's huge," said nearby resident Ron Peel, who said his confidence in the project has waned in the 10 years since he bought a house based on the grand vision the city committed to all that time ago.
"We want to make it walkable, make it more compact, make it something that's not seen typically in suburbia," Lenexa City Administrator Eric Wade said.
Wade said he could not compare the vision for 87th Street and Renner Road to any other mixed-use development in the Kansas City area because it was envisioned by the community, not a developer. As such, much of the initial investment came from taxpayers.
Beginning in 2002, the city spent $55 million for roads, sewers, parks and land. The intention was to provide the groundwork for private investors to pounce. But progress has been slower than many residents had hoped.
"They're almost roads to nowhere at this point," said resident Ron Peel of the widened and landscaped area, "because we saw a building go up with a beautiful parking garage that now is going to get flattened."
He's referring to a four-story structure in a privately owned corner of the intersection that has been languishing next to a now-vacant office building. Wade said it was meant to be a seven-story structure with parking and office space, but the company building it went belly up. Now, it's been sitting so long it has to be demolished.
Then there's a truss that's been on the ground at the entrance. It cost the city almost $1 million. Installers recently learned it's cracked.
Wade said some of the improvements would have been needed on both Renner and 87th Street. He said federal grants, lower interest rates and lower construction costs helped keep Lenexa's interest going in the project.
"We would have spent those dollars regardless," Wade said.
Ron Peel has mixed feelings. He's seen missteps, setbacks and progress.
"The optimism has worn out a little bit," Peel said, "but we've actually seen some traction over the last couple years, which has been nice to see."
North of the intersection, on private land, known as City Center North, a 300-unit apartment complex is complete and nearly every unit occupied. Just beyond it, a development of single-family homes is half sold.
The other privately owned parcel, known as City Center East, is where the half-finished building sits. Wade said a new firm has stepped in to buy the building and a completed one that was recently vacated. That new firm, BE Smith, plans to demolish the now-compromised structure and turn into flat parking.
City Center, the southwestern parcel the city bought for $11 million, is now home to a Lifetime Fitness Center with amenities that make it far more than a gym. Friday evening, its parking lot was packed with members.
The two new office buildings are planned for that same corner.
Overall, the taxpayer outlay has been $55 million. The plan was to recoup $42 million by the year 2020. So far, the city's recouped only $8 million. Wade would not say how much the new prospective buyer has offered to pay for its portion.
"It's not meant to ever be envisioned to all happen at one time," he said.
Wade said it was meant all along to take considerable time.
"Rightfully critics can say, 'We haven't seen it yet,'" Wade added. "My response is, 'We're still working on it,'" he said.
The latest development was enough to buoy Ron Peel's optimism for a little longer. He said he'd rather wait for the right development than see impatience push the city into settling for something less than the original vision.
Now if only they could convince a coffee shop, convenience store or restaurant to move in, then Peel and his wife would have a glimpse of not just progress but that compact, walk able little world they'd imagined.
Wade believes the project is well poised for an economic recovery.
"I don't think betting on Lenexa at 87th and I-435 is anything but a sure deal," Wade said. "The city made investments for the long haul and right now we believe that we have put the foundation in place for the development that's out there."
Tuesday, May 21 2013 3:29 PM EDT2013-05-21 19:29:04 GMT
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