Developer set to propose new mixed-use project for The Rocks site in Roeland Park

An aerial view of the proposed project site looking soutwest. The site, dubbed "The Rocks" by the city, was the former location of the city pool. Photo credit city of Roeland Park.

Nearly three years after the committee tasked with exploring options for the site reported a persistent lack of interest in the site from developers, a new mixed-use development proposal is underway for Roeland Park’s former pool site, known as The Rocks.

The Roeland Park City Council on Monday approved a 120-day memorandum of understanding with Sunflower Development Group LLC of Kansas City, Mo., to develop the 6.6-acre property at 4800 Roe Parkway. Sunflower had expressed interest in early 2017 in building a hotel on the site’s upper portion but never made a formal offer.

The new proposal envisions a project that would cost an estimated $35 million to $50 million. According to council documents, the proposed project would include:

  • 150 to 250 multifamily units, up to 20% of which would be workforce or affordable housing
  • Up to 25,000 square feet of retail space
  • Up to 10,000 square feet of office space
  • Structured parking

The MOU requires the developer to submit a written proposal for the purchase price of the land and with further details of the project’s components within 120 days. The city agreed not to entertain other proposals to develop the property for the first 90 days of the MOU period.

Land purchase price, tax incentives package undetermined

Jason Swords, Sunflower Development’s principal, said after the meeting that he didn’t know what purchase price he would offer the city for the land or what retail tenants he would seek.

The city is willing to consider offering public financing incentives for the project, including tax-increment financing, industrial revenue bonds and community improvement districts. Swords said that he didn’t know what incentives he would seek, if any, but that “everything is on the table today.”

Developing the site has proved difficult because its topography makes building difficult, Swords said. The site has caves and what the city calls “significant elevation change,” which would require extensive grading and other site preparation for construction.

But Swords said the area surrounding the site was “just more walkable today than it has been,” improvements have been made in the area, and “Johnson County is finally seeing some infill transactions.”

Roeland Park has seen significant improvements to the road and sidewalk infrastructure near the site since Sunflower was last in serious talks with the city. The Roe 2020 project is now substantially wrapped up.

One councilmember votes against MOU over concerns about ‘due diligence’

The council approved the MOU by a 7-1 vote. Ward 1 Councilmember Tom Madigan voted no.

“I like the phrase ‘due diligence,’” Madigan said during the meeting. “I don’t feel council has been able to do their due diligence on this MOU with it coming forward tonight for approval. … I don’t recall the economic development committee ever discussing this mix of construction or a list of possible incentives.”

Madigan asked whether any other party had expressed interest in developing The Rocks. City Administrator Keith Moody said there had not been “a great deal of interest in the property in the past couple of years.”

Ward 1 Councilmember Jan Faidley said she wanted Sunflower Development to know the council was “particularly focused on affordability” of housing and had discussed “the missing middle” in Roeland Park’s housing.

“I’m not sure a large apartment complex would address that issue,” Faidley said.

Swords said Sunflower had built affordable and market rate housing and he had “heard the message loud and clear that we need to have some level of affordability” — lower than $1,200 or $1,300 a month. He serves on the Johnson County Housing Task Force and on the AdvanceKC 2.0 initiative to guide economic development in Kansas City, Missouri.

With the MOU, “I’m the one at risk,” Swords said.

“I’m going to go spend the money with the architects and the consultants to try and put this project together,” he said. “And whatever I come forth with, you have the complete right to tell me I’m crazy and turn it down.”

Sunflower estimates its due diligence, creation of conceptual development plans and work with the city to buy the land for the project will cost $20,000 to $30,000, according to council documents.

Swords said Sunflower would have a market study done for the project and work with its consultants “to help us design what might be the best fit here.” He expects to seek feedback after about 30 days from the city’s planning department on designs Sunflower submits.