STAR bonds officially in place for dino development

Mayor Randy White signs documents on the city’s STAR bonds, making their sale official. White is surrounded by a number of children, most of them his grandchildren. Also witnessing the ceremony, which took place in the mayor’s City Hall office, is city council President Mark Staats, left rear.

Surrounded by toy dinosaur models and posters of the massive creatures, Derby Mayor Randy White made it official: the city’s STAR bond district, including its signature dinosaur park, is ready to get underway.

White signed the legal documents in a brief March 15 ceremony in his City Hall office to allow the sale of the bonds necessary for the district’s development.

The signing, similar to a closing on a real estate transaction, now will provide financing for Derby’s STAR bond district. STAR, or sales tax revenue bonds, are special financing devices with a state tax exemption that are employed by developers to spur on projects.

“This is a big deal,” he said during the signing.

A lot of things had to happen during the past three years to reach this point, he said.

“The council had to approve it, the state had to approve it and we had to sell bonds,” White said. “I’m pleased to announce that these bonds sold in less than five hours for an excellent interest rate. We’re now ready to work with the developer and start to make some concrete plans.”

While the bonds’ structure and the project’s infrastructure are spelled out in print, the overall project, including the dinosaur park, formally called Field Station: Dinosaurs, is not guaranteed to succeed.

However, if there are financial struggles, or even defaults, Derby’s taxpayers are not on the hook for any losses – the bond holders take that, city officials stressed.

The dinosaur park, related attractions and new businesses are planned for a 49.5-acre parcel at the northwest corner of North Rock and Patriot. At 233 acres, the entire district is much larger and goes from Meadowlark north along Rock to Derby North Middle School.

But the dinosaurs are what will get the most attention, White said.

“It’s the signature development,” he said.

STAR bond districts need such an anchor to qualify and the dinosaur attraction does just that.

There is a lot more work to do, including site plans and presentations to the Derby Planning Commission and city council, but White said he expects those to go well and dirt to start moving soon.

“Hopefully, we’ll see something happen pretty quick on the north end of town,” he said.

That will move the city away from the period of “just talking about things,” to concrete proof of project development, White said.

That will help build a synergy where business owners see other ventures building.

“Now the developers will actually be able to go to potential businesses that want to come to Derby,” he said.

Overall, the city is taking a proactive approach to growth, and from the feedback he’s gotten, businesses are realizing that.

“As a city we don’t tell business want to do, they just need to follow our zoning practices and codes,” White said.

White cited the feedback he got at a recent groundbreaking in which he was told that the city “made it easy” to get that project underway.

“That’s what we want to do,” he said.