Call it the Return of the Parking Garage. After millions spent on infrastructure and land in western Lenexa’s City Center development, the Lenexa City Council has decided it must spend $2.4 million more — this time to front the cost of a new parking structure to replace a partially built one that was recently torn down.
The council voted unanimously last week to lend the money to the owner of the property, Hunter Inc., for a two-story garage next to the company’s office building near the intersection of 87th Street Parkway and Renner Boulevard. Hunter will kick in $380,000 upfront for a total of about $2.8 million in construction costs.
The garage, plus a small surface lot included in the plan, will add at least 250 parking spaces to the existing on-street parking. The structure should be completed by September.
The building replaces a planned seven-story retail and parking building that had to be torn down after its developer went bankrupt, leaving it unfinished and out in the elements for four years.
Despite the fact that this is the second time the city has financed a parking garage on the same ground, Mayor Mike Boehm said it’s the right thing to do to keep the City Center vision alive. “I think there’s still support and excitement (for the project),” Boehm said, “and it’s time to deliver.”
The city’s action was the latest installment in the saga of a massive development that has been more than a decade in the making and could go for 25 or more years before completion.
When Lenexa leaders started out on the City Center, they imagined a cutting-edge, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, densely populated with stores, restaurants and offices. To that end, the city began buying land and putting in streets and sidewalks.
Before the financial crash of 2008, the city had set up a special taxing district to get development going in the eastern quadrant of the project. The Tax Increment Financing district allocates sales tax revenue in the area to pay construction costs. The money was used to put up the first four floors of the parking garage before the bottom fell out of the real estate market.
The problem is that the money from the taxing district is still pledged to the bond holders, and not available for financing another parking garage. Hence, the economic development loan, which will come from the city’s capital improvement budget reserves. The fund had extra money available because of some budget tightening and an uptick in sales tax revenue, said Boehm. It will not be necessary to delay street projects in other parts of town to provide the money, he said.
The garage will provide permanent parking for the occupants of an adjacent four-story building that is also owned by Hunter. But parking will be available for the public on weekends and during off hours.
Doug Smith, president and CEO of B.E. Smith, a medical executive search firm, owns a controlling interest in Hunter. He said he is confident the building will soon be fully occupied. B.E. Smith’s 80 employees and an architecture firm take up three floors. The first floor will be retail. Smith said Grand Street Café is making plans to move into one of those spots, and he expects the rest of that floor to be leased within six months.
Because of the existence of the taxing district, the financing plan contains a clause that forgives the last five years of the loan.
“Like everything with City Center East, it’s complicated,” said City Administrator Eric Wade.
The Economic Development loan has a 2.5 percent interest rate over a 20-year period. But as long as the payments are made on time, the final $706,000 of principal will be forgiven. That is scheduled to happen in 2027 — about the same time the original bonds mature and the tax increment money becomes available.
The city has limited its risk in making the loan, Boehm said. If Hunter defaults, the city will take possession of the building and the garage, an option that wasn’t available on the previous deal because the bank held the mortgage. A garage and building at that location should not be a difficult sell, said City Attorney Cindy Harmison.
But is the city simply throwing good money after bad?
To date, taxpayers have been quiet on the subject. None spoke at council meeting when the loan was considered.
“What’s frustrating is that no one cares,” said Marc Lassalle, resident of Lenexa’s old town neighborhood. He said he’d be happier if the city put more effort into getting tenants lined up before spending more money.
Lassalle said he’s especially angered that a years-old redevelopment in the old business district has been allowed to languish half finished for years, while the city pours money into the City Center.
“Slabs with pipes sticking out of the ground are all that is left from yet another dream of this city’s administration,” Lassalle said.
“The idea of grand place where citizens can walk hand in hand—after parking their cars — is great, but … make up your mind! Have Lenexans become numb to this insanity?”
Boehm is convinced that the fortunes of City Center are beginning to turn around. Perceptive Software, for example, recently announced its intention to move its corporate headquarters and more than 500 jobs from Shawnee to a site to be built just down the street — the result of another tax increment deal from the city. Add that to renewed interest in retail in the Hunter building, and adequate parking becomes a crucial piece of the puzzle, he said.
“Perceptive is coming here because of the vision, not because of the piece of dirt,” Boehm said. Progress on the garage, “keeps the momentum going. From a vision and healing perspective, this is very important,” he said.
Councilman Lou Serrone said it’s a great real estate deal for Hunter and a good save of a potentially bad situation for the city. The building needed adequate parking to be viable, he said. In fact, a previous tenant, Generali USA Life Assurance, moved out of the building because of the lack of permanent parking.
If city leaders could have foreseen the deep recession when they started the project years ago, “they might have taken a different path,” Serrone said. As it stands, the loan will keep the development alive just as the economy is beginning to turn around.
Said Serrone: “You take the cards you were dealt with and play your hand and play it the best you can.”