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Sun, Feb. 16

'From our standpoint, not much has changed'

Will residents see an interchange and mall at Kingman Crossing after the Nov. 6 defeat of two ballot measures that several city leaders believe significantly hindered progress on the project?

According to the public relations firm representing Vanderbilt Farms LLC and Vestar Development Co., the owner and partner of the Kingman Crossing North project, plans are still on track.

"From our standpoint, not much has changed," spokesman Stuart Goodman of Goodman-Schwartz Public Affairs said Tuesday. "From our perspective, Kingman Crossing is still the ideal location for a major retail project that can benefit the Kingman community and the region as a whole."

One of the Nov. 6 ballot questions asked residents to give the city authorization to sell about 170 acres at Kingman Crossing South, opposite Vanderbilt's property on the north side of Interstate 40. Officials believed that the sale of that land at some point in the future would provide the funding to pay for a 50-percent portion of a traffic interchange proposed between the city's and Vanderbilt's property.

Construction of the interchange, based on preliminary numbers, would cost about $23 million. Without the ability to sell the land, at least not for another year, the city's expected source of revenue for the project is out of sight.

"The vote last week requires more creative thinking on the funding mechanisms," Goodman said, "but the fundamentals of the project still remain the same as they were when we first closed on the land back in January of 2007." City Council and the mayor will meet next month to discuss if the city can move forward with the project despite the now absent funding source.

The Vanderbilt-Vestar partnership has dedicated most of the talk about funding to a sales tax reimbursement: Vanderbilt would front the entire cost of the interchange, then, over the course of several years, receive a 100-percent reimbursement from a portion of sales taxes collected from a mall that Vestar plans to build on the north side of I-40. "We're looking at all different types of options, whether it be a community facilities district, an improvement district or an infrastructure reimbursement agreement - all of those concepts in our view remain in our consideration," Goodman said.

"It really depends on the city and what they feel comfortable with. But again, the fundamentals still work. It's just a matter of going forward and being more comprehensive in the different types of funding mechanisms that are available to us."

Although the expectation was that the election would be the next major step for the project, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of room for progress right now, as Council's retreat is still a month away and there have been no discussions lately on the one thing Vanderbilt and Vestar need to move forward: an economic impact study that outlines the feasibility of entering into a sales tax reimbursement agreement. These studies are a prerequisite for any such sales tax sharing agreement.

"We can't go forward until then," Goodman said.

Former Economic Development Director Jeff Weir had a discussion and action item planned on a mid-June Council agenda, but then-City Manager Paul Beecher pulled the item because, he said at the time, he didn't believe people understood the concept of a sales tax reimbursement. He wanted to wait until the sale of the state land at Kingman Crossing as well. That land never did sell.

E-mail records released from the city revealed that Vanderbilt had proposed a several year "freeze" on the city's land to eliminate commercial competition with Vestar's shopping center planned at Kingman Crossing North. Since the city's request for authorization to sell the Kingman Crossing South land, and since the denial of a major amendment to the General Plan for that same land, Vanderbilt essentially received what it indicated it wanted in the e-mails.

Goodman said there has been no discussion of that between the development partnership.

"We're no worse off or better off than when we started. The fundamentals of the project remain strong. Now it's just a matter of how creative we can make the funding mechanisms work so it continues to be a positive project for the community," he said.

The next step is working toward that sales tax reimbursement feasibility study, Goodman said, but until Council's retreat, exactly when this project will get going, how it will move forward and what role the city will have in that progress remain unclear.

"We want to continue to try and work with the city, continue to explore options and that's exactly where we've been for quite some time," Goodman said.

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