Graders and dump trucks can be seen doing preliminary dirt work on a planned 40-acre truck plaza development north of Interstate 70 at Exit 157 on the western outskirts of Hays.

But developers won’t start any actual construction until they hear from the city of Hays about whether they can get Tax Increment Financing incentives to bring water and sewer under the four-lane divided interstate highway.

“They are indeed putting together the documents they need to make application for incentives for a TIF for infrastructure for the projects,” said Doug Williams, executive director of Grow Hays. “At the same time they are busy soliciting hotels and restaurants for the development ... all of that will be submitted to the city.”

The application for the TIF will likely be on the agenda for the Hays City Commission in the next 30 days, Williams estimated.

“I don’t think it’ll be anything surprising to the city, because they’ve been talking about it,” Williams said.

City of Hays director of finance Kim Rupp said that while the application hasn’t been received yet, any incentive requests, including a cost benefit analysis, are vetted through the city’s bond counsel, Gilmore & Bell, of Kansas City, Mo. That includes requests for TIFs, Community Improvement Districts or property tax abatements, Rupp said.

“Once Gilmore & Bell vets it and OKs it, we present it to the commission,” he said.

Mark Hess, vice president of operations for Hess Services Inc., and a travel stop developer out of Topeka have formed the company that will apply for the incentives, said Williams, who has been working with the developers as the area’s economic development representative.

The developers also plan to ask the city of Hays to annex the property from the county. The process for the TIF and annexation, some of which requires publishing a legal notice and holding a public hearing, could take as long as five to six months, Williams said. The developers are bringing the property to grade now so it’ll be ready for permitting and construction if the incentives are approved.

The development is part of a larger plan to improve 230th Avenue, currently a hilly, narrow, limestone rock road handling heavy semi-tractor truck traffic going to industrial businesses in the northwest area of the county. Among those is the multi-building campus of Hess Services Inc., which employs 360 people manufacturing oilfield production equipment for customers throughout North Dakota, Colorado and Texas.

Ellis County and others are working to secure $11.08 million in funding to improve 230th Avenue and the adjacent Feedlot Road. South of I-70, 230th Avenue is the paved US-183 highway bypass. Trucks headed north or south on US-183 take the bypass and 230th Avenue in combination with Feedlot Road to go around Hays to avoid stop lights and traffic on Vine Street.

Williams said plans call for a truck stop, truck wash, restaurants, a couple of hotels and some retail stores.

Exit 157 would also be widened and the turn radius increased to handle large and over-sized loads, such as trucks carrying wind turbine loads, which currently can’t gain access to fuel stops, hotels and restaurants from Exit 159 off Vine Street, he said.

“They would certainly be able to stop at this facility,” Williams said. “We would capture additional business for the city.”

The Kansas Department of Transportation in years past committed funding for the exit improvements.

“It’s going to be good for Hays,” Williams said. “It does put infrastructure north of the interstate, which has been a barrier to development. It costs millions of dollars to get water and sewer under the interstate.”

With very little development north of the interstate at that location now, Williams said having water and sewer there would make a difference.

“Additional developers can tie on, so it opens it to residential development north and west of the travel plaza,” he said. “It does open some additional opportunities.”

A TIF takes the difference between the property taxes paid now on the raw land, currently zoned agriculture, and the developed property, zoned commercial, and rebates it for the purpose of installing the infrastructure, Williams explained. The rebate is paid to whoever pays for building out the water and sewer, typically the developer.

“Otherwise, typically it’s so expensive that a developer can’t justify putting in the infrastructure,” he said.