Thursday, March 8, 2012

Where Does Truman Corners Go From Here?

By Seann McAnally
At a Leap Day luncheon of the Grandview Chamber of Commerce, officials with RED Development talked about the leap forward they intend to make with a revamped Truman Corners shopping center. If negotiations to purchase the property go well, that leap could begin as soon as this summer.
RED’s proposal, “Truman’s Landing,” was recently approved by the Board of Aldermen. The $91 million project would totally rebuild the center. It seeks some $45 million in public financing, but city officials say steps have been taken to ensure the public isn’t put at risk.
The project has the formal endorsement of the Grandview Chamber of Commerce.
“Ever since November, when this first came on the radar, our organization has been saying, ‘Go RED, go RED, go RED,” said Kim Curtis, chamber president.
Sandy Kessinger, of Bank Midwest, chairman of the board for the chamber, agreed.
“The fact that we’re having this presentation on Leap Day is appropriate,” she said. “Grandview took a leap of faith in selecting RED.” Kessinger added that she had high hopes the revamped center would be a success.
With that, she introduced representatives from RED Development as “the people who will forever change the front door to Grandview.”
Aaron March, a development attorney for RED, said the chamber’s support was vital during the approval process.
“The support of the Chamber and its membership is one of the reasons the Board of Aldermen voted to approve this project,” March said.
March spoke of RED’s desire to “transform communities,” and said Truman Corners redevelopment has the potential to “transform” Grandview.
“This is the face of Grandview,” he said of Truman Corners. “This is the new front door. You deserve a place to shop. You shouldn’t have to go to Leawood, to Belton, to Lee’s Summit. This will be a new center of vibrancy for the Grandview community.”
March updated the crowd on the current status of the project. Now that it has been approved by the Board of Aldermen (in a 5-1 vote, with Alderman Joe Runions in dissent), the details of the redevelopment agreement must be hammered out. However, he said, so much negotiation has already been done that he anticipates no major hurdles in that process.
“I don’t foresee any difficulties,” March said. “City staff has done a tremendous job of making sure taxpayers are protected. They have done more due diligence on this project than on any other development I have ever seen.”
The final development agreement should be hammered out in the next month to six weeks, March said, a timeline Mayor Steve Dennis concurred with.
However, March pointed out that RED does not yet own the property. He said negotiations are in place with American Resergens Management Company, the current owner, who submitted a competing proposal for the shopping center. After several public hearings and overwhelming public opinion in support of RED’s project, the Board of Aldermen turned down the ARMC proposal in favor of RED’s.
March said he’s hopeful negotiations proceed well, or that ARMC agrees to join the project as a partner. Failing that, he said, the city will condemn the property and RED will acquire it through eminent domain. That could postpone further action by as much as six months. But if a sale can be negotiated without condemnation, RED hopes to begin work this summer.
“We have invited the current owner to join us in this process,” March said, “and we’re hopeful we can negotiate a purchase price.”
RED is requesting a relatively heavy public subsidy for the project – almost half of the project costs would be paid for by bonds backed by the city’s credit rating. If the center fails to perform as expected – specifically, if sales do not reach about 65 percent of what analysts say they will – the city could be left holding the bag. That’s what prompted Alderman Runions to vote against the project.
Mayor Steve Dennis said that’s not likely to happen. City staff insisted, and RED agreed, that no bonds would be issued until the center was fully leased.
“We don’t want a situation on our hands like what some of our friends to the north have had to deal with,” Dennis said,  referring to the emptiness of the former Bannister Mall, or the financial hardships Independence has suffered due to the failure of the Bass Pro Shop development to reach projected sales.
Dennis said that he couldn’t mention names, but that contract negotiations between RED and major tenants are already underway.
Dennis said he expects the old Montgomery Ward building to be torn down first, and that even if the worst case scenario happens – that RED doesn’t finish the project – Grandview would have a green field where it used to have an abandoned building. Dennis was quick to point out, however, that Grandview officials have every reason to believe that there is a strong desire among retailers to tap the Grandview market. He said there is a perception among some in the KC Metro area that Grandview is less affluent than what it is.
At a public hearing last year, the current owners were taken to task by city officials for failure to lease the center. Carl LaSalla, a real estate agent who has been responsible for leasing the center, drew the ire of the board when he said, “There’s a perception that this community can’t support a Best Buy.”
Dennis said that’s not true.
“Our citizens are shopping. They’re spending money, but they’re not always able to spend it here, as much as they might like to,” he explained.
Dennis added that Grandview’s demographics are changing, both in terms of race and economy, largely due to the influx of residents from the International House of Prayer. That, plus good traffic counts on 71 Highway – soon to be Interstate I-49 – changes the retail game in Grandview.

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