Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lenexa Wastes $17.9 Million on Road for Nothing

In 2006, it was a dream. In 2010, it is still a dream.

One year ago, this blog covered the saga of the ongoing monument to poor civic planning that is Lenexa City Center in our post "Blight in Lenexa: The Great City Center Folly".

In the post, we revealed the fact that despite 5-6 years of promises, a completely redesigned road full of now four roundabouts in a one mile stretch, and tremendous amounts of city resources and energy, the only thing we have seen at Lenexa City Center is an ugly 10% built parking garage that only could be described as blight, an office/retail building with one tenant, and an apartment complex.

A year later, very little has changed. The apartment complex is finished and appears to be quite n ice, but has rents as high as $1555, despite no amenities and massive dirt piles next door.

The only positive is that the previously half-built fitness center is now open and quite busy, the lone bright spot in what is a vast amount of empty land and waste.

We say lone bright spot because in many ways, the development has took large steps back:

- The developer for City Center North, which represents the large dirt piles next to the apartment complex, filed bankruptcy.

- The developer for City Center East, which was responsible for building the office building with one tenant at the ridiculous price of $75,000 a month, also filed bankruptcy. The one tenant, Generali, has actually filed a motion in court, which describes the situation perfectly (source, Lenexa City Center East Village financial troubles raise Generali questions, Kansas City Business Journal)

“Given that it has now been almost two years since any work has been done on the parking structure, and with no realistic hope of the debtors ever being able to obtain funds necessary to complete the parking structure, termination of the Generali lease would appear to be imminent,” according to a March 15 motion filed by Payne & Jones lawyers representing the mortgage lenders in the case.

- No progress has been made on the main part of the development either, Lenexa City Center, which is still basically a "city center" for prairie dogs and coyotes. Providing absolutely no explanation to it's citizens who might be curious, the project's website hasn't had an update since February of 2008.

Given the down economy and the fact nothing has really happened in the entire four-corners development of 87th and Renner, one would think that prudence would prevail and Lenexa would perhaps realize it has a giant boondoggle on its hands. With the city's future in their hands, one wonders if perhaps city leaders might be rethinking the entire project and realizing that perhaps a city of Lenexa's size, particularly with the already-well-developed Olathe and Shawnee on its north and south, couldn't hope to ever occupy such a massive development as "Vision 2030" envisioned with City center.

But, no. The dream lives on, according to an April 2010 edition of "Town Talk". Apparently the ridiculous drivers' ed course/crop circle/alien landing zone that is Renner Blvd wasn't enough of a waste -- now the city is going to go ahead and move forward with a complete reconstruction of 87th STreet between Renner to Lennox Drive.

As the taxpayer-funded newsletter says (emphasis and side comments ours):

"An exciting (everyone leap up and down for road construction!) road improvement project is now under construction to help pave the way (oh, cute) for City Center. 87th Street Parkway from Renner Boulevard to Lennox Drive is being rebuilt to handle traffice more effectively and accomodate future development at City Center"

It goes on:

"East and westbound lanes will be divided with developable city blocks between them. The nearly one-mile stretch of road, which is designed to fit the urban character (LOL, next to a gigantic county park, really?) of City Center, will include three lanes in each direction, on-street parking, wider pedestrian sidewalks (couldn't have those been built without redoing the whole road?) and unique streetscaping features (you mean like more giant rocks and blue lights?).

On street parking for who?
Wide pedestrian sidewalks to accomodate who?
Three lanes for what?

The problem is, just because you have a dream and pretty drawings doesn't mean those buildings and plans will actually ever exist! How about having just a wee bit of success before completely redoing yet another mile of city road?

The kicker came when the newsletter said that "lower construction costs" would "save city tax dollars". While we applaud the fact that the $21.9 million dollar project went out for bid and saved $4 million, what about the remaining $17.9 million?

They try to explain it by saying that 29% will come from the infamous federal stimulus package, 50% through a property tax paid by property owners along the project, 9% from county taxes, and less than 2% from the city. Memo to Mayor Boehm and others -- that's all TAX DOLLARS AND WASTE -- the people don't care that just 2% came from Lenexa -- the fact is, it's all a waste of money, no matter which portion of my pocket you grabbed it from.

It would be one thing if Lenexa City Center East and City Center North and City Center itself were actually developing, creating the need for moving a road that has been in place for decades. But no, this is for a ROAD project to accomodate a pipe dream which has had ABSOLUTELY ZERO record of success in the past 5 years of trying, not to mention TWO bankruptcies, tenants bailing, and absolutely no evidence of demand from citizens, outside of the fitness center!

Oh wait, this is all part of their Vision 2030 project. Yes, their goal -- already moved back 10 years -- is to have it all complete when people currrently being born are graduating from college.  How about not wasting tax dollars and instead, delaying an unneeded road project to when it's actually clear the City Center will succeed?

When are city leaders, developers, and others going to realize that these pseudo-urban dreamlands are just that -- dreams? Lenexa isn't the only one with its head in the sand. Corbin Park in Overland Park is bankrupt. Massive projects in other parts of the city sit unbuilt.

Here is our view: Rather than focusing on these massive projects, why not focus on smaller obtainable goals that actually service the needs of a community? For example, in western Lenexa, there is a project being built at 101st and Woodland to accomodate the not-met needs of those living in the already developed neighborhoods of Falcon Valley and Falcon Ridge, among others. It's taking off and actually being built, with clear success on the other side of the street in the price Chopper Center, in which every space is basically filled.

The fact is this -- you can't try to recreate suburbs into something they are not. Lenexa should have, many years ago, taken a reality check of its 43,000 population and perhaps just focused on ONE CORNER of the project -- perhaps Lenexa City Center East, and develop a modest plan and then TRY IT OUT to see if it attracts interest before redoing entire city blocks with things like roundabouts and split roads.

See, we're not against development here at Kaw & Border. We're against "build it and they will come" mentalities in city governments who design their dreams on the backs of the citizens, already sick of waste in government. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the citizens largely don't know about these failures, the city officials are not held accountable and sent out of office -- due to a lack of attention by any form of local media, outside of the aforementioned articles.

Lenexans need to start taking a hard look at the actions of its government. Five years ago, city officials promised projects would be completed by 2007, then 2008, and nothing has happened. You can only blame the economy so long. Before Vision 2030 becomes Vision 2040, perhaps another kind of adjustment is needed. How about "Priorities 2015" -- a five year plan to reexamine City Center. Let's chart a new, realistic, fiscally conservative, un-hyped up vision for the great city of Lenexa.

Until that happens, Lenexa City Center will be the ultimate ghost town -- a town so "ghostly" that you can't even see the bulidings, unless you happen to have the unrealistic dreams of the proponents of City Center.