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SPOTLIGHT
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Developing Exit 159

Published on -6/4/2014, 11:03 AM

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With three interchanges on the heavily trafficked Interstate 70, Hays is the envy of many a community in Kansas. The proven success of Exit 159, a sales tax-generating behemoth, long made us wonder why the other two had not been developed.

While Commerce Parkway appears to have the more appropriate name, it is 230th Avenue that next will begin luring travelers off the highway.

Already in the works for Exit 157 is a Peterbilt dealership owned by Doonan Truck & Equipment of Wichita. The heavy-truck business will have 12 bays and provide parts and service just north of the interchange. The building is expected to be completed by September.

NWK Investments is planning to add to the synergy of the intersection of 230th and 55th Street. This week, the company will detail its plans to the Hays City Commission for a travel plaza with fuel stations, a 95-room hotel, convenience store with two fast-food restaurants, as well as two casual restaurants. NWK is willing to pay the city an estimated $2 million to cover the cost of hooking up water and sewer services to the site, but wants to remain outside city limits for up to 10 years. Mike Woofter, managing member for NWK, said delaying the annexation process is necessary as the company intends to go through the county for a community improvement district and tax development district, and utilize the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program.

The project sounds solid. The developer is using cash for 75 percent of the capital costs, which could run between $14 million and $20 million. An estimated 115 jobs will be created, with annual sales starting at $6.8 million and increasing to $8.5 million by the fifth year.

In a memo to the commissioners, City Manager Toby Dougherty wrote: "Staff feels the proposal is a fair one and could have long-lasting, positive economic benefits for years to come."

That assessment, which we agree with, came with a caveat in the staff's final recommendation: Commissioners should suggest the project come into the city limits immediately. We would have to agree with that as well, and hope the commission sees it the same way. There simply is too much at stake.

The primary concern is water usage. The NWK project would consume an estimated 737,000 cubic feet of water every year. While the increase is less than 1 percent of the city's total consumption currently, it is the equivalent of 114 single-family homes.

There also is the matter of a moratorium the city placed on providing water to any development outside the city limits. The commission approved the prohibition last summer as part of the response plan to the drought. Absent any immediate economic benefit to the city, commissioners would be hard-pressed to justify lifting the moratorium.

If the project was placed inside city limits, there would be immediate economic benefits. An average $150,000 annually in sales tax collections and $35,000 in property taxes would go straight into city coffers. That would be worth the estimated 14 to 18 acre feet of water used every year.

The city could balance the books for NWK by offering a 2 percent CID for 20 years, which would generate more dollars for the developer than the currently envisioned CID and TDD.

Developing this interchange on I-70, particularly when dropped into the city's lap, should be welcomed with open arms. Commissioners need to approve a compromise that benefits both the developer and city taxpayers. It strikes us that staff has recommended the correct balance.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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