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Thu, Feb. 20

Vice Mayor Dave French declares Kingman Crossing a dead issue

Few were surprised but several city leaders expressed disappointment with the election results Tuesday that showcased voters' disapproval of two significant issues related to the Kingman Crossing commercial district and the interchange project planned at Interstate 40.

For months leading up to Election Day, Mayor Les Byram had issued repeated warnings that without voters giving the city authorization to sell its land or approval to the land-use designation of that acreage, the city would have a tough time moving forward with Kingman Crossing plans.

Now that voters have overturned both requests, the mayor is teetering between the possibility of the entire project going under, and the city still being able to make something of the plans. Obviously disappointed in residents' no votes and surprised at the margin of opposition to the two Kingman Crossing measures, the mayor said, "It means we will not have bigger stores and better shopping."

No longer will Kingman be able to compete with its neighbors, Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, for large-scale development, he said. "I don't see how we can proceed with it, but that will be for the Council to look to see if there are possibilities."

Vice Mayor Dave French wasn't so indirect in his future outlook for the project.

"I believe it's a dead issue. We can't participate without money, and we can't raise money without the appropriate zoning and selling the land. So it's a dead issue. I don't have to talk about it and worry about it anymore," he said.

In late August, the Arizona State Land Department cancelled an auction of 640 state-owned acres in the Kingman Crossing area. That cancellation, blamed on local turmoil in city government, meant that a third party would not be contributing to the costs of building what initial design reports estimate to be a $23 million interchange.

"I was hoping that if it was sold, we could get some help in paying for the crossing," Byram had said. Vanderbilt Farms LLC owns the property bordering the north side of I-40, the city the south 170 acres, and below that is the state land. With a private owner there, Byram expected to split into thirds the cost of the planned interchange.

Byram's less-than-optimistic view doesn't rule out further negotiations with Vanderbilt and Vestar. And in the long run, the city may benefit because a hospital and mall (all planned) on the Kingman Crossing North property added to an interchange would significantly affect the city land's value.

But how will it be funded? Options remain, but until the Council retreat in December, there is no unified direction from Council on where to go from here.

Councilman Tom Spear said Wednesday morning that while he wasn't surprised by the results, he was "disappointed about Kingman Crossing because I think that definitely represented an opportunity that Kingman needs. But evidently, we didn't get that message across.

"I think we definitely have to look at what our options are at this point as far as proceeding because the vote definitely limits our options," he said.

The question remains whether or not Vanderbilt Farms, the Kingman Crossing North landowner, will proceed with plans for an interchange and development district that will beget the much-anticipated shopping and restaurant amenities.

"It has to make sense for them, obviously, from a dollar and cents standpoint," Spear said. "And I don't know if they could swing the entire cost of that interchange on a (community facilities district) or a sales tax reimbursement or a combination thereof, but that may be an option they'd be looking at."

A facilities district would tax area landowners for infrastructure improvements. A sales tax reimbursement, at least as proposed by Vanderbilt and Vestar thus far, would mean the company fronts the money of the interchange costs and in turn receives a portion of sales tax dollars the city collects from a mall built on the north-side property. The reimbursement would be paid off in full over a period of several years; that is, the proposition has been that the city pay back the entire cost of the interchange costs that Vanderbilt fronted. No agreements have been signed.

Vestar has reached similar agreements in the past with several cities in the Phoenix area, as well as in southern California. And Tuesday, voters in Gilbert approved one such agreement that will result in the reimbursement of nearly $10 million for infrastructure improvements that will front a shopping mall there.

Vestar shelled out more than $120,000 in a campaign encouraging the agreement, according to an Arizona Republic article published Wednesday.

Representatives from Vanderbilt and Vestar could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the company's plans for their land.

The public will have to wait until the Council retreat to hear city leaders' thoughts on a future plan for Kingman Crossing. While the city may seek another amendment and request for authorization to sell its land, department heads said in the days before the election that a no vote on either one may signal to the Council that people do not want Kingman Crossing - or that they may want Rattlesnake Wash instead.

Although now, without the land sale in the immediate future, French expressed wonder at how the city would come up with its 30 percent portion of Rattlesnake Wash. "That was part of the Kingman Crossing land (sale) thought process, so I don't know," he said. "As far as wanting to get it done, it's still definitely on the front burner.

"If it's going to get kicked up a notch, I think it's going to have take some private money, similar to Kingman Crossing," French said.

As has been the city's modus operandi in recent months, answers are forthcoming.

"We're going to have that planning retreat soon, and we've been asked as individuals to come up with items that we need to discuss regarding the future of Kingman," Councilwoman Janet Watson said. "It was always the intention that after the election we would discuss Kingman Crossing, so I'm sure that will be one of the options that we need to discuss."

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