An angry Overland Park City Council sent the latest proposal for the beleaguered Galleria 115 project back to the planning commission Monday night, with several of them calling revisions that would allow drive-thru businesses a “bait and switch” by developer Ken Block.
Some council members said they felt betrayed because the changes would alter the entire complexion of a development they envisioned as an important first step to making College Boulevard more welcoming to night life and pedestrians.
“I believe the thing we voted incentives on was something special and unique. This is nothing. Nothing,” said Councilmember Dave White. “I’m voting against this plan and if I could vote to rescind the (special sales tax district) I would because I think we’ve been misled. I think you’ve taken advantage of us. And I’m sorry but three drive-in restaurants along Nall Avenue by all of this great office stuff cheapens the whole thing.”
Other council members and Mayor Carl Gerlach were similarly disappointed about the drive-thrus. Councilmember Curt Skoog said he felt justified in voting against the $13.5 million increase in tax revenue from a 1.5 percent special sales tax, to be used to help pay development costs.
“I feel like a little bit of a bait and switch has been done,” Skoog said. “I’m disappointed and a little surprised that that’s the tack that’s been taken.”
Gerlach also was lukewarm on the plan changes, saying, “Entertainment and sit-down restaurants was much more exciting when first presented.” The drive-thru restaurants are a let-down, Gerlach said.
Problems with project continue
The Galleria project has been beset with problems since it was first proposed about a year ago. On the northwest corner of 115th Street and Nall Avenue and just across the street from Leawood, it is considered promising because of its nearness to high-end consumers.
The mixed-use project was originally conceived as a joint venture between Block and a Dallas-based company The Retail Connection. But when that company dropped out, things became complicated. Block decided to take on the entire project but soon asked for an increase in tax incentives because the former partner had underestimated construction costs on the rocky land. That plus other changes increased the cost of the project to $252 million. Further legal issues also delayed closing on the Sprint Corp. land until Friday.
The Overland Park City Council has generally supported the project because members believed it would be an attractive start to the eventual overhaul of the College and Metcalf Avenue corridor. A recent study of the area, commissioned by the city, recommended that traffic be slowed and the corridor be made more pedestrian friendly.
Galleria includes office and housing along with the retail, plus a yet-to-be-specified entertainment component. But after hearing that three pad sites would have drive-thrus, Councilmember Fred Spears also questioned the entertainment aspect. “It could be anything from a gentlemen’s club to a bowling alley,” he said.
Ken Block was not at the meeting Monday, but his representative, Bob Johnson, assured the council that a unique entertainment option that he was not free to identify was interested in the space. Block is still committed to building a quality project, and the latest plan is the best one that will work in the current market, he said. “It’s not just a plain Jane suburban shopping center.”
Council members took turns expressing their frustration to Johnson. “How many times are we supposed to act as a shock absorber for your internal business dealings,” said Councilmember Faris Farassati.
In the end, they voted 9-1 to send the plan back to the Nov. 12 planning commission meeting for reconsideration. Farassati voted no and Council members Paul Lyons and Chris Newlin were absent.