Reporter, Kansas City Business Journal
A development agency has authorized a blight study of 350 acres in south Kansas City — a first step toward making Jim Stowers III's proposed research and office park project there eligible for property tax abatements.
Representatives of the project, called Oxford on the Blue, appeared during Friday's meeting of the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority board, which offers standard property tax abatements of 100 percent for 10 years followed by 50 percent for five years. To be eligible for PIEA abatement, a project must be declared blighted and be included in a PIEA area targeted for redevelopment.
Stowers, son of the billionaire founders of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and American Century Investments, plans a mixed-use development at the site on the north side of 87th Street between interstates 49 (previously U.S. Highway 71) and 435.
A Google Earth view of the site reveals that much of it remains undeveloped. But "this is not a green field," said Mike White, a lawyer with White Goss Bowers March Schulte & Weisenfels PC who represents the developer.
White said the property includes an obsolete street system that would need to be replaced and a lot of subsurface rock that will be expensive to remove. He said the proposed development also will require extensive cleanup at former fuel facilities and a site that housed the Missouri Department of Transportation's South Consolidated Service Center, which Stowers had to relocate as part of the 350-acre land assemblage process.
Whitney Kerr Sr., a veteran commercial real estate broker with Cassidy Turley who helped assemble the acreage, told the PIEA board it took "60 transactions to put this land together."
The transactions have included the purchase of 36 homes, which have been demolished to make way for the development. Kerr said he still is negotiating with the owners of four homes, including two owner-occupants asking for at least twice the $63,000 average that the rest of the homes fetched.
Kerr said the PIEA's power of eminent domain might become useful if ongoing negotiations with the last few homeowners are unsuccessful. But PIEA board member Ed Drake said he would be reluctant to condemn owner-occupied homes.
"If they're looking for $100,000, I'd give them $100,000," he told Kerr.
"We expect to pay a fair price; we don't want to be gouged," Kerr responded.
Kerr, who has a long history with the Oxford on the Blue acreage, was chairman of the Kansas City Plan Commission in the 1990s. During that time, he said, "several people wanted to put trailer courts, storage businesses and auto facilities" on the site. But the planners turned down those applications, preserving the land for a higher and better use.
Kerr said Stowers envisions Oxford on the Blue as a college-like campus that would attract companies working on commercialization of biotech discoveries made by researchers in the region.
At one time, Jim Stowers Jr. considered developing a corporate campus for American Century Investments on the land now slated for Oxford on the Blue, Kerr said. Eventually, American Century officials decided to remain anchored on the Country Club Plaza. But Jim Stowers III, a former American Century CEO, called Kerr a few years ago and said he'd like to buy and develop the site.
It is at the northern tip of what Kerr and others are starting to refer to as Kansas City's Bioscience Triangle.
On Aug. 1, Cerner Corp. announced that it would acquire the Bannister Mall redevelopment site to the south of Oxford on the Blue and add as many as 15,000 employees there.
The Bannister site will be an extension of Cerner's Innovation Campus at 10234 Marion Park Drive, formerly the home of Marion Laboratories.
Nearby, a large tract has been assembled by a partnership tied to the Stowers Institute. Jim Stowers Jr. has pledged that the institute would add 600,000 square feet of research space every decade in perpetuity. And some think the first expansion, delayed by attempts to outlaw embryonic stem cell research in Missouri, could proceed at that site.
Kerr told the PIEA board that the 1,500-plus-acre area where the Bioscience Triangle is emerging benefits from large tracts in strong hands and a superior transportation network. In addition to its accessibility from multiple highways, he said, the area is expected to benefit from the expansion of the city's new streetcar system along the old Country Club trolley line. The right of way for that eight-mile line remains intact and extends from 43rd and Main streets to 85th Street and Prospect Avenue — just a short hop across the Blue River from Oxford on the Blue.