The progress and future development of Proximity Park in Ottawa was the topic of a joint meeting of the Franklin County Commission and Ottawa City Commission Tuesday.
County Administrator Derek Brown said there has been a lot of interest lately in the project which prompted the meeting to learn more about what will be needed as companies sign on to take available space in the business park.
“As staff we have decided that it’s an appropriate time to get the boards together and discuss ‘where do we go from here, what is the process for selling a property like this,’” he said. “Hopefully at the end of this, we will have the discussion started on what we need to do moving forward and how we want to market this property.”
Chris Gutierrez of KC SmartPort, a company that helps match potential buyers with available sites, told commissioners potential businesses looking to move into a town first want to know about public transportation and workforce.
“There are two main focuses for us this [upcoming] year,” he said. “Get people to the job site [and] how do we get them from where they live to the job site. Jobs in warehouse, distribution and manufacturing, a lot of those workers don’t have their own vehicles. Second, we need to make these jobs interesting to young kids, young employees, because there are opportunities but that’s not what’s happening. We need to change that.”
That issue came up recently as companies looked at sites in Proximity Park. He said the feedback shows some of the issues this area will have to overcome.
“Know that you’re at the table,” he said. “You have had a number of looks recently. You’ve been in the game. A recent project told us everything the city did was right on point, you made the next round. Workforce hurt you and proximity to the markets they need to serve. You can’t change the markets they serve, but you can address the workforce.”
He said making the decision on whether the land is sold and how it is marketed will be made by the local officials but speed is important.
“The faster you can get information in marketing brochures, details on the site, all the utilities, everything you are already doing, the faster we have that to get in front of a consultant the better,” he said. “How you get to the next step is a decision you have to make.”
The last thing he said the commissioners need to consider is incentives. He went on to explain that the market is very competitive and many surrounding communities offer free land incentives like Topeka.
“The clients decision, that speed to market, they want to see how you are going to help them in their immediate cash flow, not long-term incentive only,” he said. “They want to see both.”
Gutierrez said Ottawa has been competitive in some of the incentives that have been offered but because of the distance from the metropolitan area, decisions need to be made about what incentives will be given, but that every client is different and some flexibility will be required.
Moving forward, staff explained how the marketing process was done and negotiating with a potential buyer would be done at the local level but ultimate approval would come from the governing bodies.
Mayor Mike Skidmore asked Gutierrez how he saw the process working.
“A decision needs to made quickly and we are rookies at this of course,” he said. “At what point do the elected officials get into the decision making process.”
Ottawa city manager Richard Nienstadt said consultants would be told whatever was negotiated would be contingent on the commissioners approval.
“As some of you know that have been on the commission through this, we stay in touch with the elected officials,” he said. “We have had special meetings at a moments notice to approve a package. So there has to be a little faith here that we are in step with the elected officials.”
On Wednesday, the county moved forward on more improvements to the site by authorizing Brown to receive bids for the purchase of $3 million in bonds to improve Kingman and Montana Roads as well as the intersection of US-59 and Kingman. The bond will finance the remaining part of the road improvements.
This will be the second bond issue relating to the Proximity Park as the county approved a $7 million bond issue in July of 2017.
“For financing reasons, we broke this into two bond issues,” Brown said. “It helped with the budgeting and it also helped us get a more accurate assessment on the total costs of the project would be. The funds will be used for the same purpose. We are thrilled with the fact that the second bond issue is much lower than we feared it might be.”
Brown said when it was first discussed, the project was estimated to cost $13 million but that number has been reduced to $10 million for both bond issues as the bids came in substantially lower than anticipated.
“We feel like we are using our money and resources incredibly efficiently,” he said. “We are right on schedule in terms of our construction. We have not seen any great delays.
In reflecting on the joint meeting Tuesday, Brown said it was encouraging to see the two commissions working together.
“We have had a great partnership with the city on this,” he said. “It is what you envision for a community. [Tuesday] was a good example of that with our Proximity Park update. Everyone has been in sync. City and county staff are working real well together.”
Herald senior writer Greg Mast contributed to this report.