Roeland Park agrees to fund study to determine if caves at old pool site can be developed

A drawing of a possible development of an entertainment site using the old pool ground and the limestone caves. The drawing was done by Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt.
A drawing of a possible development of an entertainment site using the old pool ground and the limestone caves. The drawing was done by Roeland Park Mayor Joel Marquardt.

Roeland Park’s old city pool area off Roe Ave., now overgrown with vegetation, sits at the edge of limestone caves. It could be one of the last big development possibilities on city-owned land. The council has decided to find out exactly what might be possible in redeveloping the site.

The city council Monday agreed to use money from a Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) that includes the old pool site to pay for engineering studies that will determine if the ceilings and columns in the caves are structurally sound for development. Mayor Joel Marquardt, who is an architect by trade, had earlier done drawings showing how the caves and the pool site might be redeveloped into an entertainment area with bar and restaurant capability.

Interim City Administrator Mark Pentz called the project “one of the most exciting things” he had seen. “It is worth taking some risk here,” Pentz said, calling it potentially the last available big development. He said the geo-technical work is critical to moving a project forward.

Mayor Marquardt said previous engineering studies do not tell what the cave structures are capable of supporting safely and how the caves could be used. The TIF fund has been collecting property tax increments for a number of years in that district, primarily from the Boulevard Apartments. Those funds can only be used for a narrow list of purposes, but that would include engineering studies, parking, grading, utility work, but not for new structures or to pay a developer.

The mayor, who has been working with an ad hoc development committee, said among the options for the site would be for the city to develop it, to sell it or to have it filled in up to the Roe Ave. level. The TIF district is coming to an end in 2018 and will have a total of approximately $1.2 million available. The challenge, Pentz said, will be to move a project along fast enough to take advantage of the TIF funds before the TIF expires.

Marquardt said some developers have shown interest in the site.

The old Roeland Park pool when it was operating off Roe Ave. at the site of the caves.
The old Roeland Park pool when it was operating off Roe Ave. at the site of the caves.