City officials propose 20-year industrial park expansion

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

City officials Tuesday presented the rough draft of a 20-year, $20 million economic development plan that would be funded through a sales tax increase.

"I mean, if this happens in 20 years, it would be remarkable," said Fort Scott Economic Development Director Dale Bunn said, who spearheaded the development of the plan. "But at least we're looking at other things, letting you know we're concerned about some things."

The plan is split into two 10-year periods starting next year and ending in 2028. Economic development would include expansion of the Industrial Park by acquiring 160 acres of land, south of the park. The city would share in the project with BEDCO, which has already made a commitment to getting 55 acres south of the Kansas Department of Transportation office. The development of a spec. building that could hold a manufacturing company.

It would include revitalization of downtown area buildings to promote more renovation for apartments and lofts.

The first 10 years will also community-wide street and sidewalk repair and new sidewalks and streets.

The entire plan is very preliminary and will more than likely be heavily modified. But, it gives a glimpse at the future and where Fort Scott needs to go to improve, Bunn said.

The plan was a collaboration between the city and the individual work of numerous committees like the Phoenix Task Force, the Outside-In Economic Development group, Bourbon County Economic Development Council (BEDCO), the Aqua Vision Team, the City Hall task force and the Young Professionals League.

The City Hall Task Force, formed last year, have discussed building a new city hall or acquire a property and renovate it, Bunn said. If that happened, according to the plan, it would take place in the first 10 years.

But perhaps the most pressing issue, to some, is either making huge repairs to the current city pool or building a new aquatic center.

Building a new city pool is included in the first 10 years of the plan. It would cost $3.9 million.

The Aqua Vision Team got feedback from citizens following last year's special election in which voters defeated a 1 cent sales tax increase to fund a $6.5 million combination indoor/outdoor pool.

"They (the group) has come up with a plan that's $3.9 million that's comparable to other communities around us," Bunn said.

In all, the first period of the plan would total $9.4 million in projects.

It would be funded by a 1 percent sales tax. The ballot question would be in November during the General Election, according to the plan. But that's very preliminary, as is the entire plan.

The second period would be from 2019 to 2028 that would allocate money for continuation of projects in the first 10 years.

Commissioner Nick Graham said he'd like to have the plan supported by all the groups and all commissioners.

"If we move forward on this, I want every single group and team interested or involved in this to be agreement and they all support it," Graham said. "The key has to be support."

He supported last year's sales tax initiative for the aquatic center. "I wish I had just shut my mouth about the pool when I first ran for the commission. I wish I would've waited all that turmoil out. Bringing it up back then got it completely stigmatized and now it's this knee-jerk, angry reaction about a pool when it doesn't need to be."

Commissioner Jim Adams said he hasn't "absolutely no input on this."

"I would say this is extremely preliminary," Adams said. "I want people to know that this is the first that I've heard of it. We need a lot of input."

The city's updated comprehensive plan is being reviewed by the planning commission. The comprehensive plan will tie into the plan revealed Tuesday. The comprehensive plan is long and involved and needs to be edited before the commission reviews it.

The comprehensive plan will provide a blueprint of where the city will go with codes and zoning and infrastructure improvements.

Without the comprehensive plan, Adams and other commissioners don't want to move forward with the plan presented to them on Tuesday.

"We've been waiting for this comprehensive plan and paid a lot of money for it," Adams said. "We need that before we can address the rest of this."

Commissioner Barbara Wood said the plan is "everything we need and everything we want."

"We didn't get a sales tax passed last time for $6 million but I guess maybe we'll try for $10 million," Wood said. "We've got to go back and work on this. But I'm glad to see this on paper and what we're doing and where we want to go."

Mayor Gary Bukowski said he's "afraid" of a 1 percent sales tax increase. "I think that will scare voters. I really do. I think that's too big of a chunk. We'd be going from 7.3 (percent) to 8.3, the state maximum. It's no criticism of the plan. I think we need to work through this."