By Roxie Hammill
Even a freshly bulldozed and vacant lot would be better than keeping the crime and deteriorating buildings that currently exist at two shuttered hotels near Metcalf Avenue and Shawnee Mission Parkway, said Overland Park City Council members as they laid the groundwork Monday for redevelopment of the area.
The council gave its qualified approval to a redevelopment proposal for self storage, retail and a small hotel on the troubled site of the Ramada Inn and Knight’s Inn, 7240 Shawnee Mission Parkway. By moving forward on the plan, members hope they can stem some suburban decay and perhaps spark other development.
In separate votes, the council unanimously approved rezoning and a special use permit that would allow the $39 million project known as Metcalf Crossing to move forward. They also voted as one to set up a tax increment financing district to help the developer pay some expenses.
Although some council members were lukewarm on the types of business proposed for the area, they said they were happy to be doing something about an area that has drawn much attention from police for reports of suspicious activities.
“You can’t put lipstick on this pig,” said council member Richard Collins. “It’s just pretty ugly and something needs to be done.”
Council member Curt Skoog called the existing property an “open wound” in northern Overland Park because of its reputation for crime. And the developer backed that up with a conservation study intended to document the blight.
According to police records, the two hotels were the busiest among the city’s hotels for crime. Some 6,943 calls for service originated at the two hotels from 2010 through the midway point of 2016, and there were 238 arrests during that time period. Most of those were for traffic warrants and drug-related. The hotels had nine times the arrests of other hotels, the report said.
The conservation report also outlined other problems at the hotels. Some people were living there long-term and inoperable cars were being stored there, the report said. Bedbugs and roaches were also reported, as well as a slew of mechanical and deteriorating structural problems. The Ramada was built in 1967, followed by Knight’s Inn in 1972.
The proposal, by Wes Grammer of Sky Real Estate, calls for demolition of the two hotels, to be replaced by 153,000 square feet of development, including self-storage units, retail and a small hotel. The self-storage facility would be first to be built, followed by the replacement hotel and retail as tenants are signed on, said Korb Maxwell, attorney representing the developer.
The four-story hotel, with 90 rooms, would have a considerably smaller footprint than the existing hotels. Ramada Inn has 150 rooms and Knight’s Inn has 50. Both those hotels closed at the end of last year.
Metcalf Crossing comes with a request for public financing. About $2.6 million would come from tax increment financing using the eventual increase in property tax revenue in this case to pay for the up-front costs of demolition, land acquisition and site preparation.
The council’s vote to setup the district is the first step. Final reviews and a vote are still ahead before the digging can begin. The council will also discuss a special 1-percent sales tax district to raise $3 million at a later date.
Although council members agreed the five-acre area needed intervention, they were not overly excited about the self-storage, retail and hotel as proposed replacements.
Mark Hunter, Overland Park resident who spoke at the public hearing, called the project “mundane.”
“It seems like there should be something special for the public,” he said. The storage facility is ugly for the residential neighborhood to the north, he added.
Some on the council also worried that the project might not get enough momentum to ever be completely built out.
“I think that since it is a safety concern we should be investing in this area. I just hope that we get the entire project and not just the storage facility,” said council member Gina Burke.
Maxwell promised a “bright new day” for the area with an aesthetically pleasing project. He said the developer is willing to take the risk because there’s a need for self-storage in the area. And the small hotel can also succeed, he said. “We see this as an excellent hotel location. It has just has had an antiquated product,” he said.
Maxwell said removal of the existing buildings should make the property show better for potential tenants. Some council members were cautious, though. “I’m excited about this project, it’s just that I’m not looking forward to only having a storage facility,” said council member Dave White.
Still, the use of public money to improve a blighted area is what TIF was intended for, he said, noting that the public money will go toward razing the hotels. “If nothing else happened, that’s probably an improvement over what’s there right now.”