STAR bond future

With roughly 94 acres of land, there is still plenty of room for additional development in the Derby STAR bond district.

This is the final story in a series looking at the creation and development of Derby’s STAR bond district.

Developer Rick Worner of National Realty Advisers has had his hand in a number of STAR bond projects – not just Derby’s.

Worner was involved in one of the first STAR bond projects in the state – the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City – and currently has his hands in a few in the Wichita area. With Derby, he noted he looks at current national and global trends to help decide what can further be added to the STAR bond district.

For example, Worner mentioned aquariums (which are not actually allowed to be developed as STAR bond projects). If an aquarium opened in London or Atlanta and was drawing hundreds of thousands of people, he said he would dig deeper into its development potential in Derby.

“As I find other family friendly attractions that opened somewhere else and are doing extremely well,” Worner said, “I will think about, ‘hey, is this a right fit for Derby?’ and if it is I’ll take the idea to staff, or sometimes staff and the city council, and say, ‘hey, what do you think of this?’”

Sometimes those ideas will work for Derby and sometimes they won’t. One idea Worner highlighted that did not fit Derby was a wax museum – noting those attractions have to be in areas with high foot traffic (i.e., Times Square in New York City, London, etc.). However, when he saw the original Field Stations: Dinosaurs in New Jersey Worner thought it would be perfect in Derby.

While Worner admitted he likes all the ideas he brings before the city, ultimately it lies with staff and the Derby City Council to decide what fits best locally. City Manager Kathy Sexton noted, though, that they have been pretty open to any and all possibilities.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve listened to all of them and are open to all of those,” Sexton said. “A small percentage of them work out, but you also have to be open to listening to ideas and thinking about what’s next.”

Currently, Worner said he has three general feasibility studies in the works for future attractions. Typically, he said he will study four to five ideas and a couple will come back with numbers that work for Derby – with Worner then presenting those ideas to the city.

At the moment, Worner does not have the results back from the current feasibility studies and noted he likely will not present the next potential addition to the STAR bond district until the current attractions are well under construction (or even completed).

Derby pushed for the second amendment to the STAR bond project (the rock climbing facility) this year based on the projected deadline for such projects. That has since changed, though, and Sexton said it is expected to be extended in the next legislative session.

Given that expanding window, Worner said both retail and additional tourist attractions are something he hopes are in the future for Derby’s STAR bond district. Just what that is exactly depends a lot on the market and the factors of both local and visitor traffic – with growing numbers leading to more development opportunities.

“I can’t tell you the number of cities that want an Olive Garden that Derby already has,” Worner said, “but they can’t get an Olive Garden because they don’t have enough residential population and they don’t have enough visitation population.”

COVID has thrown development for a loop this year, Worner noted, having cancelled the 2020 International Conference of Shopping Centers. Worner noted he normally goes to that and presents Derby’s demographics to a number of restaurant, retail and hotel companies to see if the city would be an ideal location for expansion. The cancellation of such conventions has led to a down year in development.

Long-term ramifications of the pandemic are still uncertain as well, but Worner continues to seek out numerous opportunities to develop the Derby STAR bond district. He said it is important to also remember that is not an overnight process.

“Everybody wants a STAR bond district to turn into The Legends in KCK, but what everybody forgets is that took years and years and years. We’re still at the early stage of the Derby STAR bond district,” Worner said. “I continue to look for attractions and development that would build traffic.”