Westfield schools ask city for $2.5M to speed development

April 29, 2014
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Westfield-Washington Schools is asking the city to help pay for a new football stadium to accelerate construction and make way for what’s being described as a $40 million-plus commercial development at U.S. 31 and State Road 32.

The school district has agreed to sell 14 acres northeast of the intersection to a group of local investors with big visions for the site, Superintendent Mark Keen told the Westfield City Council on Monday.

A development plan expected to be submitted this week calls for a three- to four-story office building and hotel on 9.6 acres west of Shamrock Boulevard, now home to Westfield-Washington’s football/track stadium and junior varsity baseball field.

The deal also includes 4.5 acres east of Shamrock, where the district’s administration building currently stands, though that parcel won’t be developed immediately.

The initial projects could add $40 million in assessed value to the city’s tax rolls, Keen said, and the developer is eager to get started.

But proceeds of the land sale—about $4 million for the western parcel—aren’t enough to build a replacement football stadium, even with the pledges Westfield-Washington has received through its $7.5 million “Build the Rock” campaign.

So Keen asked City Council to contribute $2.5 million to “expedite our move.”

He took pains to describe the requested cash as an investment, rather than a gift. The distinction: The anticipated development should generate enough property taxes to repay the city in less than three years, Keen said. School-owned land is not taxed.

The new 5,000-seat stadium also would be a community asset, the superintendent said, potentially hosting more than 300 events a year thanks to the installation of artificial turf. (Grass fields need periodic “rest” periods.)

Keen said the venue has been planned since Westfield High School was erected in 1995, but development was sidelined during the residential boom as the district focused on building schools. The district has nearly doubled in size since then.

And commercial development east of the U.S. 31 interchange could spur additional investment along State Road 32 leading into downtown Westfield, he said, supporting the city’s ongoing Grand Junction revitalization initiative.

“It’s important to get going quickly,” he said.

Westfield-Washington accepted bids for the property last year, but declined to accept the lone offer it received. Mayor Andy Cook said he hasn’t seen the development plans, but he said councilors have been meeting with school board members for several months to discuss how the public entities can work together on economic development.

“If we can accelerate the private-sector use and move the property to a taxpaying entity, great,” he said. “We want to provide additional momentum to the commercial tax base in that area.”

Councilor Rob Stokes asked for more information about the proposed projects, which officials said will be made public after plans are filed. A representative of the development team declined to comment before then.

The council will hear public comment on the proposal at its next meeting May 12, President Jim Ake said, urging residents to share their opinions during the hearing or via email.

“We want to know if there is wide community support,” he said before sending off the standing-room-only crowd of green-clad Westfield schools supporters with a smile and hearty “Go ‘Rocks!”

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