An agenda item up for a vote Tuesday could better position the City of La Vista to one day seize the blighted Brentwood Crossing shopping center through eminent domain.
The resolution before the City Council would allow the city's Community Development Agency to acquire the nearly vacant shopping center that previously housed a Walmart and a Hobby Lobby. It is a follow-up to last month's approval of an 84th Street redevelopment plan.
City officials envision the Brentwood property as a key piece in Vision 84, the sweeping plan to revitalize La Vista's aging 84th Street retail corridor and turn it into a mixed-use downtown destination.
But shopping center owner E. Stanley Kroenke, a billionaire real estate developer married to a Walmart heiress, hasn't necessarily shared the city's vision or expressed interest in redeveloping his property, city officials say.
If the city is truly committed to redeveloping 84th Street, it has to explore all options, Mayor Doug Kindig said — and that includes acquiring the former center through sale or eminent domain.
“Without a doubt it's an option, but it would be the last option we would ever want to use,” he said.
Kindig said city attorneys advised the administration that even if eminent domain is a last resort, the city needs to officially assert that power now and not wait until further in the planning process.
“It's more legal talk than it is action right now,” he said. “It's strictly a vote to say it's an option we have, but it doesn't mean we're doing any of it.”
Representatives of the Columbia, Mo.-based Kroenke Group did not return a call for comment last week.
Doug Ruge, an Omaha attorney specializing in eminent domain matters, said the city could be using the threat of eminent domain as a bargaining chip in its discussions with Kroenke.
“My experience with governmental entities in general is they will try to negotiate with owners before they exercise eminent domain,” he said. “But I have heard that mantra: 'This is the last resort, exhaust all avenues, blah, blah, blah.' ”
The city may have caught one break: The Brentwood property was listed for sale last month. Its sister shopping center across the street, which counts Office Max as a tenant, is also listed, at a purchase price of $1.75 million.
The city has included $18 million in bonds in its 2013-14 budget to one day finance 84th Street redevelopment through a half-cent sales tax increase, which could include purchasing the plaza.
But that proposed sales tax hike would require City Council approval and a voter referendum before it could take effect.
The city also has proposed levying a 2.6-cent redevelopment tax to generate funding for the long-term project in its upcoming budget, which will be introduced Tuesday.
Kindig said he would like to see a private developer acquire the site, but said he hasn't seen much buyer interest since Walmart left.