Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oxford on the Blue Development Could Be Boon for SKC

By Paul Thompson
Ten years ago, the 350-acre South Kansas City property now slated to become the Oxford on the Blue mixed-use development project was surrounded by blight.
Options for the parcel were limited and uninspiring. The land, located north of 87th Street between I-49 and I-435, rested in a sort of development purgatory. But in the years since, momentum has slowly built throughout South Kansas City.
In 2006, Cerner acquired the former Marion Laboratories complex off 71 Highway (now I-49), where they built their South Kansas City location. In 2010, the KCMO police department broke ground on their new $28 million South Patrol headquarters off Bannister and Marion Park Drive. Cerner recently announced plans to build a massive new complex at the site of the former Bannister Mall. And now Whitney Kerr Sr., a 56-year veteran of the real estate business (and broker with Cassidy Turley) who helped bring the Corporate Woods complex to life, has compiled land for the Stowers family to develop hundreds of acres at the Oxford on the Blue site.
“There were a lot of negatives out here. All of a sudden, all these things changed,” said Kerr last week. “I think the potential of this area, with the infrastructure out there, is incredible.”
Kansas City 6th district councilman John Sharp agrees.
 “I’m tremendously excited about the Oxford on the Blue project, because this has the potential to bring thousands of good-paying jobs to southeast Kansas City,” said Sharp. “This shows how a major investment in an area often serves as a catalyst for even more development.”
The possibility for greater transportation options in the area also remains an alluring draw for the developers of the site. The parcel is located near the light rail train route that’s been proposed by County Executive Mike Sanders, and Kerr remains bullish on the opportunity to bring back one of the city’s trademark modes of transportation: the passenger streetcar.
At one point, according to Kerr, Kansas City had 75 miles of cable cars which preceded San Francisco’s famous trolley system. Kerr thinks that the public would benefit if the downtown streetcar plan, which will connect Union Station to the River Market (and garnered a $20 million federal TIGER grant this summer), could be extended along its original route to the newly announced developments in South Kansas City. Councilman Sharp added that some at City Hall are already pursuing the idea.
 “Council members from the 4th, 5th, and 6th districts have all provided sales tax funding to study the expansion of the Country Club streetcar line,” said Sharp. “Having developments at this (Oxford on the Blue) site certainly makes it much more important to extend the streetcar lines to serve them.”
That original trolley route was converted to the Trolley Track Trail, a six-mile walking and biking path that connects the South Kansas City Waldo and Brookside areas to UMKC’s campus, thanks to the Rails-to-Trails program created by Congress in 1983. But as is happening downtown, the trails could still be re-purposed back to their original intent in the future.
Even without the transportation hubs in the area, there is significant buzz in South Kansas City. Kerr says that the developers for the Oxford on the Blue site will work to get the zoning altered on the parcel from Rural-Agriculture to an Urban Renewal District, in order to incentivize business activity in the area. The developer will also be applying for PIEA (Planned Industrial Expansion Authority) tax abatements to help get the project off the ground. Early plans for the site have encouraged city officials.
 “I think everyone at City Hall who is familiar with the project is very excited about it,” said Sharp. “It’s been described to me as a high-tech office park which would also have support retail, and likely have on-site housing as an additional element.”
Kerr says that development at the Oxford on the Blue site will help drive the economy in South Kansas City, ultimately providing well-paying jobs and attracting viable homeowners to neighborhoods surrounding the site. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful thing for them,” Kerr said.
Of course, Kerr acknowledged that there are still issues that could arise as the project prepares to go to City Hall in the coming months. Chiefly, the strength of the economy remains an important factor for any development to proceed as planned.
“Anybody who’s involved in major capital investments is affected by the cost of money,” said Kerr. “Probably the biggest concern that the private sector has is the health of the economy.”

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