Dunkin' Donuts pulls out of Argentine development because of delays

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Residents and neighborhood groups are wondering what is preventing the Unified Government commission from voting on a development project in Argentine. 

Because of a two-and-a-half year delay, one of the businesses that had agreed to move to Metropolitan Avenue, Dunkin' Donuts, pulled out, says the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association (ANDA). 

Wendy's and Pizza Hut are still on board, but residents worry if the commission doesn't act soon, those businesses will pull out, too. 

"I've spent a lot of years here. Every day since 1974," said Mark Turley, who owns Mickey's Surplus on Strong Avenue. 

Turley says he's in support of the fast-food development. It's been a while since Argentine was buzzing with business. 

"We don't want to wither on the vine. We want to change, we want to evolve," Turley said. 

Things started picking up just in the last five years. A Walmart Neighborhood market and Save A Lot came in on Metropolitan. A new police station followed. The new development would go in the vacant space across from Save A Lot. 

In District 3, ANDA, the Argentine Betterment Corporation (ABC) and Commissioner Ann Murguia championed these projects, which are now within a community improvement district. 

"They've all kind of been a shot in the arm for the community. They've brought in new people that spend money, which we could use some money," Turley said. 

The new development has gone before the UG five times, a frustrating point that was made clear at the Neighborhood and Community Development committee meeting on Monday.  

"When we had the change in mayors, now it seems to be back on the table but it's going very slowly and we're still not sure it'll go through," said Therese Gardner with ANDA. 

ANDA got a $1.2 million grant from Health and Human Services to create jobs for low-income folks, who make up the majority of people living in Argentine. 

Murguia, who will resign as executive director of ANDA in December, wrote the grant. ANDA is giving the money to ABC, who is taking on the development. 

The grant is broken up into two parts. Dunkin' Donuts was to receive $500,000 and the Wendy's/Pizza Hut will get $730,000.  After over two years of planning, that money is now at $600,000. 

The grant expires next year. 

The development still needs $400,000 in funding from the UG. 

"I don't know why the local government wouldn't want to give the people what they want and what they need," Gardner said. 

ANDA's folks believe this project hasn't gone through because it's fast food. County Administrator Doug Bach says otherwise, although he said fast food doesn't play into the commission's campaign of creating a healthier county. 

A community survey done in spring 2018 shows the majority of people in the county support the development and would like to see the establishments built. 

When Argentine residents were asked if they'd eat at places that are perceived to be healthier with higher prices, like Chipotle, Subway and Panera, the majority of them said yes.

"You know, fast food is maybe not the healthiest choice of times, but it sure beats not eating," Turley said. 

One man who spoke at the committee meeting said because the area already has a full-service grocery store with healthy options, a fast food development isn't hard to get behind. 

A one percent sales tax will be added on to the area. The incentives add up to around a million dollars. 

"Is it something that should be entirely incentivized by the public or should there be private equity? We're talking about major companies, Wendy's and Pizza Hut, and in a lot of communities they go to, they put some of their own private equity in the deal. And that's something the governing body will weigh out," Bach said. 

ANDA argues Wendy's and Pizza Hut are already taking a risk building in Argentine. 

Bach says $400,000 is feasible. That money will have to come from the general fund or the UG would issue a bond in the future. 

He says there have been issues working details out with the developer, such as how much money they'd get back from the sales and property tax revenues. Bach says there needs to be a cap. 

"I'm on track to advance it as quickly as I can keep the developer moving through the deal," Bach said. 

Murguia and ANDA argue that the $6 million grocery store going into downtown KCK, The Merc, has much more of a burden on the UG than their $400,000 does. 

"They're really meeting a different demand," said Bach of The Merc. "One of the things that's nice with the mercantile group, they've also come to us saying how they'll pay employees and use same pay structures as they use in Lawrence, not just coming in to pay minimum wage." 

Still, you'll hear folks in Argentine say minimum wage is a good starting ground. 

Overall, Bach says he thinks the development will bring in needed traffic to Argentine. 

The decision is ultimately up to the commission, which is expected to vote on the issue October 29.

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