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‘Really worried’: Businesses scramble as Olathe moves to acquire land for $200M road project

In World
June 10, 2024

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Sarah DeGondea said many times she has walked outside of her vacuum store on Santa Fe Street in Olathe to see cars crashing into each other while taking the ramp on to Interstate 35.

“I can step outside my side door, step over a concrete barrier and I’d be on the on-ramp. So you hear it all the time,” said DeGondea, owner of Erv’s Vacuums, which she said has sat on the corner for 30 years, occasionally with a “We beat Amazon!” banner planted out front.

“Typically somebody is getting rear-ended on our corner once or twice a week. There was one Monday and one yesterday,” she told The Star on Thursday.

She sees the clear need for Olathe’s plan to make major improvements at the interchange, which city officials say has a crash rate about 6 times the national average. But she’s now learned that $200 million project means she’ll be forced to move out and relocate her business.

The store is one of 20 properties, along with other small businesses, national chains and a shopping center, that the city is expected to acquire. Olathe officials are in the early stages of purchasing the properties — valued at nearly $22 million total, according to a Star review of real estate records — to demolish them and make way for the massive Santa Fe Street and I-35 corridor project.

“I’m a little spooked, a little bit fearful of it happening,” DeGondea said. “There’s no question about it, we know it’s going to happen. We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do. I’m hopeful the city recognizes small businesses and is fair about what they’re going to get.”

Cody Kennedy, city spokesman, said officials will soon start working with each business owner and tenant about the acquisition plan.

“There have already been several touchpoints with owners and tenants we anticipate will be impacted by the project,” Kennedy said in an email. “In an attempt to have meaningful, respectful two-way dialogue, the City of Olathe is working far in advance of our typical property acquisition timelines for public infrastructure improvement projects.”

The city did not provide an estimated cost to purchase the properties. Some affected business owners told The Star that the city has yet to give them any numbers, but said they’ve been told they can expect to see fair market value. And a few said city officials have told them they will receive more details about a relocation plan.

The bulk of the properties — including the Pentecostal church Templo Cristiano Aposento Alto, Avis Car Rental, a baseball card shop and Toni’s Italian Restaurant — sit on the north side of Santa Fe, in between North Rogers Road and Lindenwood Drive. South of Santa Fe, plans also include leveling a Church’s Texas Chicken, a couple of small strip malls, and a large shopping center anchored by Westlake Ace Hardware, Dollar General and Big Lots, with several small businesses.

Those property owners combined paid more than $520,000 in taxes last year, according to The Star’s review of real estate records for the parcels shown on a draft project map provided by the city.

One of those properties, a bank building valued at more than $820,000, is tentatively slated for acquisition, according to the city’s map.

Kennedy said plans are still subject to change.

But word of the acquisitions has left business owners with anxiety as they wait to find out more before they can determine their next steps.

“We’re just really worried about how everything is going to work out about us moving, what kind of compensation we’re going to get, how we’re going to be treated,” said Mario Maloku, who owns Toni’s Italian Restaurant with his brother, Toni.

“We’ve worked hard to build our business. We’ve been here six years building it from the ground up. And we’re being forced out of here, therefore we should be fairly compensated.”

The city of Olathe could acquire and demolish several properties, including Erv’s Vaccums, Avis, and Toni’s Italian Restaurant, to make way for a major road improvement project at Interstate 35 and Santa Fe Street.

The city of Olathe could acquire and demolish several properties, including Erv’s Vaccums, Avis, and Toni’s Italian Restaurant, to make way for a major road improvement project at Interstate 35 and Santa Fe Street.

Olathe’s ‘biggest project’

The Olathe City Council in April accepted $160 million from the Kansas Department of Transportation to help fund the I-35 and Santa Fe corridor reconstruction.

That’ll bring the project total to about $200 million, which includes $40 million in general obligation bonds. Out of KDOT’s piece, $94 million is allocated from federal dollars.

Nate Baldwin, city engineer, told the council that the city is seeking about $100 million in additional federal funding, potentially bringing the total to $300 million.

“It is probably the biggest project we’ve had in the city of Olathe,” he said.

The project includes improving Santa Fe, from Ridgeview to Mur-Len roads. And auxiliary lanes will be added on I-35 from Santa Fe to 119th Street. Baldwin said adding the auxiliary lanes will help alleviate the congestion, for example giving northbound drivers two miles before they have to merge on the interstate, a move today that creates a bottleneck.

Plans also include constructing a new interchange at I-35, roadway realignments, pavement widening and building new bridges. Rogers Road would cross under Santa Fe.

Baldwin said project design work is more than halfway done. The next step is the property acquisitions.

“We’re going to be actively out there purchasing the needed right-of-way this summer,” he told the council.

Crews could begin relocating utilities as early as next year, with construction expected to start in 2027 and finish in 2029. Baldwin said that timeline could be pushed back depending on whether the city receives federal funds.

“These roads are heavily traveled, and we know our residents want a faster and safer route through,” Mayor John Bacon said.

Server Wyatt Burnett delivers bread and salad to lunch time diners at Toni’s Italian Restaurant, 1808 E Santa Fe St., in Olathe. The restaurant is planning to move as the city works on acquiring it to make way for the major I-35/Santa Fe corridor project.

Server Wyatt Burnett delivers bread and salad to lunch time diners at Toni’s Italian Restaurant, 1808 E Santa Fe St., in Olathe. The restaurant is planning to move as the city works on acquiring it to make way for the major I-35/Santa Fe corridor project.

‘Wrong place at the wrong time’

Maloku, owner of Toni’s, is not opposed to moving. He said his restaurant is thriving, and he’s ready for a bigger space with more parking and better access.

“It’s very difficult where we’re at on a service road. It’s very congested, there are a lot of car accidents, people are driving fast,” he said. “It’s not functioning. The intersection there is very bad.”

But he’s also daunted by the toll a costly move could take.

“Hopefully we are protected and they can’t just get rid of us and throw some change at us,” Maloku said. “And obviously when we move, it’s going to cost a lot of money, especially nowadays with inflation, it’ll cost way more to open a new restaurant.”

Logan Place, left, fixes a problem on a vacuum for customer Faith DaShawn, of Kansas City, at Erv’s Vacuums, 1800 E Santa Fe St., in Olathe. The store is one of many properties expected to be acquired by the city of Olathe.

Logan Place, left, fixes a problem on a vacuum for customer Faith DaShawn, of Kansas City, at Erv’s Vacuums, 1800 E Santa Fe St., in Olathe. The store is one of many properties expected to be acquired by the city of Olathe.

DeGondea shares that concern, saying that when she’s changed locations for her store in the past, “the second year after you move, you’re always down about 35%. And part of it is everybody who was your customer thinks you’ve gone out of business.”

Looking years ahead to retirement, DeGondea said she’s not willing to “sink a couple million dollars into another building to buy. With the cost of buildings now, it’s super high.”

She’ll try to find a place to rent, where she can make sure her employees are taken care of. She argued businesses “need a bit more than just fair market value. We need more than that to relocate.”

Darby Pool, owner of of the shop Bikes For The Likes of Us, has been in business for 38 years and a tenant of the shopping center south of Santa Fe and east of North Clairborne Road for the past nine. He put the situation simply: “Yeah, it sucks.”

“But for me to get mad and get all huffy puffy, is it going to help anything? Probably not. I need to figure out what’s next for my business.”

Like neighboring business owners, Pool understands the need to improve the interchange, adding that, “When I drive across the bridge and turn right on Clairborne, if there’s not an accident every morning, there’s one every other morning.”

“It does need to be done. I understand growth,” he said. “But we happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Joshua McCarty, left, of Olathe, talked with Jasper Vallad about installing a dropper post on his bike during a visit to Bikes for the Likes of Us, 108 S Clairborne Rd. The bike shop has been located there for nine years, but could now be forced to move.

Joshua McCarty, left, of Olathe, talked with Jasper Vallad about installing a dropper post on his bike during a visit to Bikes for the Likes of Us, 108 S Clairborne Rd. The bike shop has been located there for nine years, but could now be forced to move.

While he remains in limbo, waiting on the city to make an offer and share next steps, Pool said he “had a couple moving companies come in, and they quoted $35,000 to move me. I don’t have that. There’s no way. I’ve acquired so much stuff over the last nine years. I planned on retiring in this building, but it doesn’t look that way.”

He worries about finding a new spot. He’d like to stay in Olathe, where the competition for bike shops is low, but so is available real estate space that meets his needs.

“I have 5,000 square feet. There’s like three 5,000-square-foot shops in Olathe that are available to rent, and two are over $10,000 a month, which I cannot afford,” he said. “And since I’m a seasonal business, hopefully the city gets this done so I can move during prime season and not go to a new location in the middle of winter when I’m dead.”

Pool said he’d like the city to offer enough money so he can get his deposit back, fund his move “and I’m hoping they’ll pay for the electrician to wire up my new sign at the new spot. I figure that’s at least feasible.”

“Hopefully this doesn’t kill my business,” he said.

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