Three or four years ago, the derelict Ramada Inn and Knights Inn at Metcalf and Shawnee Mission Parkway in Overland Park were notorious for suspicious activities and suspected code violations. Now there’s evidence some of that activity may be returning as the shuttered buildings sit vacant, awaiting demolition.
City council members at a committee meeting were told Wednesday that squatters may be returning to the empty buildings as one delay after another has kept them from being bulldozed. Later, they expressed frustration with those delays by denying a request for a third deadline extension and sending the Metcalf Crossing project back for negotiations that could result in changes to the nearly $6 million tax incentive package the project was to receive.
The Finance, Administration and Economic Development committee also put on hold plans to transfer land ownership within the development until after demolition. They also required the developer to hold a neighborhood meeting and fence the property within five days.
Developer Wes Grammer and his lawyers will have just two weeks to work out a revised agreement and get it to the Oct. 7 city council meeting if they want to get the buildings bulldozed by Nov. 30, the earliest possible date he told committee members they could be torn down. The project on the northwest corner of Metcalf Avenue and Shawnee Mission Parkway is already almost a year behind schedule.
“The promises you made in the past have severely undermined your credibility,” Committee Chairman Dave White told the developers. He said they originally gave the impression they had the resources to tear down the hotels quickly before the rest of the development took place. “I’m really disappointed that it’s taken this long. You say you can get it done in 60 days, well that should have happened a year ago.”
Councilmember John Thompson also had doubts. “This is the third request for an extension that you guys have requested,” he said. “Why do we believe there won’t be a fourth?”
The matter went back to committee Wednesday night after the city council expressed frustration last week at the slow progress of a project that was supposed to bring new vitality to a blighted area.
Plans for new hotel, retail never materialized
Metcalf Crossing had been billed as a $39 million project that would replace the hotels with a self storage facility, retail pad sites and a smaller hotel. But developers dropped the hotel plan when they couldn’t get a taker and replaced it with an office site. Then, most recently, they asked to replace the retail pads with a car wash.
The changes put the council in the position of offering tax incentives for the comparatively unattractive development of a self storage, office and car wash. Some council members questioned whether the office would ever get built. The intersection is considered a northern gateway into the city.
The project was due to get $2.9 million in tax increment financing and about $3 million from a 1-percent special sales tax district. Development lawyer Korb Maxwell said Grammer would lose about $250,000 of the TIF because the hotel is not being built, and he said it’s doubtful the project will raise as much in sales tax as originally projected. Nevertheless, the project will still be viable, he said.
Before they were closed in 2017, the two hotels had become a familiar destination for police and city code inspectors answering calls about suspicious activity and possible health and safety violations. White said a check by city staff during the past week showed evidence that people had been in the buildings. Councilmember Logan Heley, who sat in on the meeting, added that neighbors told him they’d seen fresh graffiti.
The site also presents a potential fire hazard, White said, because water has been shut off there as the buildings await demolition.
Maxwell, said the delays were unavoidable and not what the develop wants.
“We don’t relish having people try and squat on our property and having them come in and open one of the hundred outside open doors and do illicit acts,” he said. “It’s expensive to hold a property like this. It costs Wes money every single day.”
Wendy Wilson, who lives a few blocks away near Shawnee Mission North High School, sat in on the discussion. She said she’d rather the city be patient and think about the best use for that space. “Why build new blight?”
Maxwell said afterward the developer would work hard to get the agreement back on track. “The council laid out a very tough task for us,” he said. “We’re going to put all of our efforts into trying to have this completed by Oct. 7.”