Great Bend civic leaders want this community to be the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s home on the range, and they should know sometime this month if their bid to house at least part of the departments’s relocated headquarters was successful.
Now, government and economic development officials are keeping their fingers crossed. “We are aggressively pursuing this,” said City Administrator Howard Partington.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s lease in the Mills Building in Topeka expires Sept. 30, 2013, and the process for selecting a new lease takes up to two years. So, the department is looking at all its options and is under a time crunch.
The state department that handles facilities for state agencies announced in June it was soliciting bids for office space in Topeka, Manhattan and Great Bend, Garden City and/or Dodge City. Great Bend jumped on the prospect.
According to a legal notice submitted by the KDA and published in the Tribune, the department is seeking a facility with 5,000 to 45,000 square feet of office space that meets Americans with Disabilities guidelines. It must accommodate 20 to 180 workers.
“We don’t want to be greedy,” Partington said. The city crafted a “unique” proposal to capture at least a portion of the jobs. “We wanted to be realistic.”
“We did exactly what the secretary (KDA Secretary Dale Rodman) said,” said Jan Peters, president of the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, adding they scrambled to piece their plan together and get it submitted by the July 15 deadline. She has visited Rodman in Topeka and Rodman has visited Great Bend.
The plan calls for remodeling the office complex attached to the backside of the city-owned Convention Center. The city would issue a $1.4 million bond to make necessary improvements, but that would bring a $100,000-per-year bond payment for 20 years. So, the project is contingent upon what the state decides to do.
The city would like the state to sign a 20-year lease on the property. The KDA is looking at least a five-year lease, but Partington said Great Bend would like more of a commitment.
The office space, which was constructed in 1984 along with the rest of the center, contains 27,000 square feet on two floors. The area is now unoccupied and is in serious need of upgrades, Partington said.
“Everything is taken care of,” Partington said. The only issue might be a shortage of parking, but that could be addressed as well.
“This is the plum of plums,” Partington said. The state employees who would come to Great Bend are paid well, have benefits and retirement packages.
Peters said she is optimistic. Involved in the project were several local business leaders with ties to the ag industry and with the secretary himself
State office space is managed by the Department of Administration’s Office of Facilities and Property Management. The agency keeps tabs on rates in Topeka and places where the state has an interest in renting.
The Ag Department has been in the Mills Building for approximately 30 years. Prior to that, it was headquartered in multiple office spaces in Topeka.
Mills Building at 901 Kansas Ave. was built in 1910-1911 and was Topeka’s first steel frame structure. It first housed Mills Dry Goods Co. then Pelletier’s department store from 1916 to the 1970s.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture was the nation’s first department of agriculture. It dates back to 1857 when a group of farmers called an open meeting in Topeka to form the Kansas Agriculture Society. In 1872, the Kansas Legislature created the State Board of Agriculture from the structure of the Agriculture Society. It became the grandfather of agricultural departments in all 50 states.
The Kansas State Board of Agriculture became the Kansas Department of Agriculture on May 4, 1995. The department employs about 240 people statewide and has an annual budget of about $10 million.
In addition to state government, Topeka is home to offices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kansas Grain and Soybean Association, Kansas Feed and Seed, Kansas Soybean Association, Kansas Co-op Association and Kansas Livestock Association.