By Colleen Surridge
Just inside the open bay doors to warehouse 1420 in the 1400 area of the former Kansas Army Ammunition Plant, a wooden plaque in the shape of Kansas sat upon an easel atop a table.
Once used to store items for Aerojet, McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics and Textron Defense System, the building provided the stage for the ceremonial ribbon cutting for the Great Plains Industrial Park (GPIP).
The words on the plaque told the story of why local, state and national officials were gathered there Thursday: "Kansas Army Ammunition Plant, Joint Munitions Command 1942-2009, KSAAP, having faithfully served the nation for 67 years is transferred to Great Plains Development Authority, Parsons, Kansas."
Once a part of the arsenal of democracy, providing munitions for World War II, Gov. Sam Brownback told those gathered that the property transferred from the U.S. Army to the Great Plains Development Authority (GPDA) will serve in the arsenal for the Kansas economy.
Brownback said there is a need to grow jobs in Kansas, and the industrial park is a means of making that happen.
Crashing through all the federal red tape to make the transfer happen took more than an act of Congress. It took people willing to "dog it," to see it through to the end, Brownback said.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission announced in 2005 the KSAAP was slated for closure. Rather than watching former ammunition plant contract-operator Day & Zimmermann Inc. shut down, and having the property sit deteriorating, local citizens stepped forward to find out what needed to be done to enable the property to be transferred from the Army so it could be used as a resource for economic development in Southeast Kansas.
Brian Kinzie and the late Jerry Carson were those who first stepped into the ring, ready to fight for the transfer. The two were soon joined by Ann Charles, County Commissioner Lonie Addis and Parsons City Commissioner Bill Wheat, and other city and county officials and business representatives.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts made the first call to Parsons to announce the KSAAP was on the BRAC closure list and committed himself to helping the community through the process of having the property transferred from the U.S. Army.
Roberts kept his word, aiding the Local Redevelopment Planning Authority that was first formed, and later the GPDA, through the maze of bureaucratic red tape, with letters and calls to the secretary of the Army, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense.
Roberts said Thursday that the common goal of the transfer took place only as a result of the vision, hard work, dedication, patience and flexibility of all those involved.
"Plans are worthless, but planning is everything," Roberts said, quoting Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was the planning on the part of the GPDA that made the transfer such a success story, he said.
Thursday's celebration was long awaited, having taken 7 1/2 years, Great Plains Development Authority chair Bob Wood said, noting it was one of the most challenging projects he has ever been involved in.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who was in Congress in 2005, also served as a strong ally and a ready advocate.
Moran said there are communities that have a future, and unfortunately, others that do not. The difference is the people — the leaders, those wiling to stand up and go to work on behalf of their communities.
"Southeast Kansas is unique in its willingness to come together ... to come to aid for the mutual benefit of each other," Moran said.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins said the GPDA was already well into the process when she took office, but she was more than happy to help, however she could, to bring the process to completion.
Jenkins said the part she played was small in comparison to the local residents who first initiated discussions of the transfer, and those who came on board as the months passed to help pursue it.
Those are the people, Jenkins said, who committed thousands of hours, taken time away from their careers and families, to commit time, energy and vision to the project. It is because of their efforts, all those present Thursday were celebrating a true success story in their having together created the largest industrial park in Kansas. Not only will their efforts bring new businesses to Parsons along with jobs, "but will help keep the best and the brightest Kansas has to offer right here at home."
Without the cooperation of the U.S. Army in working with the GPDA through the processes of the last 7 1/2 years, no transfer could have taken place. Major Gen. Al Aycock, director of operations, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management (OACSIM), was essential to the negotiation's process, Wood said.
Aycock said he was approached by Carson and Charles in initial discussions, regarding some means of speeding up the process. Investigating the possibility of early conveyance, Aycock said they found a means of allowing conveyance of the property to the GPDA, while the Army still held ownership.
The question asked by those here in Parsons has enabled the U.S. Army to work with other cities working through BRAC closures.
"We can't thank you enough," Aycock said.
The general also commended those present on the kindness and hospitality he was shown here in Parsons, and said he believes it is the way people should treat one another across the U.S.
Aycock guaranteed the GPDA that the Army would continue to help anyway it could.
Wood said that seven years ago they had thought the transfer could be done in a year, but soon found themselves wrapped up in a very complex, expensive process that neither Labette County nor the state could have or would have funded.
It was only through the OEA's grants to the GPDA totaling $600,000 for legal fees and $4 million for studies, salaries, offices and equipment, that they made it, Wood said, introducing OEA director Patrick O'Brien.
In 2005 O'Brien was called regarding the list of BRAC closures. O'Brien said he met Carson and Kinzie at a couple of the conferences given to help guide communities through the closure process.
"They said we can't fight this, but by God help us overcome it," O'Brien said.
It was those original seeds that were planted with the OEA, and the cooperative efforts of local leadership in the Parsons community, that O'Brien said developed into a strong working relationship with his office.
Property transfers from the U.S. Army to local entities as a result of BRAC closures are incredibly complicated, nonsensical processes. But for local leaders' patience, determination and perseverance, he said the property would not have been conveyed.
"It is yours and you have more than earned it," Roberts said. "And the community is better for your leadership and perseverance."
Returned to the tax rolls for the first time since the U.S. Army took possession of the property in 1941, Wood said the property encompassing a total of nearly 14,000 acres will provide economic stimulus that will have an impact on all of Southeast Kansas, and the state.
Control of the property comes with strings, O'Brien said, but said he wanted to stress that what comes with ownership of the property is opportunities that can be made into jobs.
The jobs are not going to happen overnight, though, O'Brien said. Putting facilities like this back into use takes a lot of money and a lot of years. "Patience is going to be a must," he said."We wish you every success and you will succeed if you work together as a team."
Wood said progress is already being made. The transfer of deed was signed in August, and in September, the GPDA board moved forward for a contract to lease its rail lines to Progress Rail of Albertville, Ala.
That company has already referred a second company to the GPIP. The company's president and vice president have already made one visit to the industrial park, and have started discussions with the GPDA.
Wood said he believes that's where a lot of the GPDA's opportunities are going to come from, companies coming in that tell others "what we've got to offer.
"We are very appreciative to the Army. All-in-all, the Army has been great to work with and they gave us the best opportunity they could, and provided us with the best tools they could, to go out and do something right," Wood said. "I's time now to take off."