This is the first story in a weeklong series examining the pending arrival of Panasonic. We also created a printed newspaper special section that will go on sale Monday afternoon. Watch our Facebook page for where and when we will have copies available.
Known for its quaint, small-town feel, Eudora may not look the same in 10 years.
With construction beginning on a $4 billion electric car battery factory nearby, the city is grappling with what growth will look like as the development brings changes in population, housing demand and more.
Over the next 2.5 years, more than 16,000 construction workers, 4,000 Panasonic battery plant hires and 4,000 additional employees with suppliers and other new businesses are expected to flood the vicinity of the old Sunflower Army Ammunition plant.
A new, advanced manufacturing plant is now under construction there, a mere five miles from city limits.
Eudora’s leaders also have their own economic growth plans: a proposed $40 million sports arena and entertainment area south of town that could begin construction in mid-2024 and that city leaders say would attract more than 500,000 visitors a year when completed.
Mayor Tim Reazin said there is a balance to be struck between Eudora’s atmosphere and the growth that will occur because of Panasonic.
“I love the small-town feel,” Reazin said. “But I think the small-town feel is the people, and you can still have that small-town feel without shutting out growth."
Eudora is known as a bedroom community where residents sleep at night and commute to jobs in the Kansas City area or Lawrence in the morning. There are no hotels or multi-level apartments and just one stoplight. But change may be fast approaching.
Seeking sports tourists
The city’s plans for growth largely revolve around a proposed sports tourism site that would be south of K-10 on land the city would need to annex.
If approved by the city and the state, a STAR bond district would be anchored by a sports arena and would use sales tax revenue generated by the attraction to pay back construction bonds. The project would entice people to visit for the weekend, use the sports arena and other facilities, then leave.
The project would also include a hotel, multiple restaurants, a family entertainment center and a community center.
Although unrelated to the Panasonic project, city officials say it may help attract developers.
Reazin said the Panasonic announcement accelerated some aspects of the STAR bond project but will not change much.
The City Commission is intentional about growth and the project is an element of this strategy, Vice Mayor Tim Bruce said.
“It’s kind of interesting that this Panasonic deal is happening because we were already working to help the community grow in a positive manner,” Bruce said. “We’re definitely ahead of where we would be if we hadn’t been figuring out what we wanted growth in Eudora to look like.”
City Manager Barack Matite said the two developments are not directly related, but the Panasonic factory may cause more retail, commercial and housing developers and vendors to look at Eudora more closely.
“I think we were on this path trying to fill a need for the community,” Matite said. “We would be providing something that is not available on the market. Our goal is to provide those things here in Eudora.”
Another plus is that the economic activity would broaden the city’s tax base so it relies less heavily on residents’ property taxes, City Commissioner Alex Curnes said.
“We need places for people to eat, shop, work and live right here in Eudora,” Curnes said. “Expanding our revenue services to include sales tax collections from additional retailers and restaurants is one way we can expand city services while still balancing our property taxes.”
Planning Commissioner Grant Martin said he is optimistic about the relationship the proposed STAR bond district would have with Panasonic. Factory workers moving to the area will be drawn to Eudora because of what it offers, he said.
“They’re going to keep their dollars here because they can shop here,” Martin said. “That’s a big deal.”
The City Commission and Planning Commission will likely have more joint work sessions in the future, Martin added.
Where Eudora is seeking expansion
Although Panasonic may be able to hire workers who already live in surrounding areas, new housing near the plant is still expected to be in demand.
Eudora’s STAR bond project contemplates 300 apartments, all within mixed-use buildings.
Reazin said his wish is for sustainable development with long-term housing, rather than short-term housing. He is not opposed to apartments being on top of retail in the district, as this type of housing will address needs as the city’s population increases.
“There’s going to be a need for apartments. It’s just a matter of how and where do those grow, so it’s aesthetically pleasing and fits the flow,” Reazin said.
There is room for housing development in Eudora. Reazin pointed to about 100 acres west of Winchester Road and north of K-10 that could accommodate roughly 100 single-family homes plus potential for development around the high school. But growth in other directions is restricted by the Wakarusa River, floodplains and the county line.
According to a forecast by school planning group RSP & Associates in 2021, about 780 units potentially could be built over the next 10 years, including on agricultural land now outside of city limits.
Eudora isn’t considering projects that could be done in time to house construction workers, who will be the first to come to the area.
Besides the STAR bond development, Eudora is eyeing opportunities to fill out its Nottingham Center mixed-use development and Intech Business Park. The city doesn’t have enough space to attract major industrial suppliers that will support the Panasonic plant.
Curnes said not every business makes sense for the city and its future plans. However, he said the city will keep an open mind, and he encourages residents to express their opinions.
As suppliers and other businesses settle along the K-10 corridor to work with Panasonic, Matite said the opportunity may arise for another business park.
“We’ve got available ground that would make a good business park, and I think that’s what will end up happening,” Matite said.
Costs of growth
Increased traffic congestion around the plant site may be one of the costs of economic growth, although the state and De Soto are planning road improvements to address it. In Eudora, traffic congestion has already been a problem raised by community members, especially around the high school around dismissal time.
The city intends next spring to resubmit its request for a federally funded RAISE grant to help realign Church Street, which runs north past the middle and high schools.
“We’re in a lot of conversations with KDOT right now, and we really want to do our due diligence in terms of studying what the traffic flow is anticipated to be,” said Public Works Director Branden Boyd. “That gives us a little bit of time now, so we can make changes based on the density of traffic that is anticipated with the Panasonic development.”
Boyd would like to see the timeline moved up on another improvement to city infrastructure: a new water plant on Seventh Street. A previous city report predicted it would need to be improved in 10 to 20 years. Boyd said this estimate has now been shortened to five to 10 years.
Development is dependent on the city receiving certain grants, but Boyd said it’s an increasingly pressing matter.
“In my opinion, we need a whole new water plant before we take on anything,” Boyd said. “We can handle what we’ve got. We can handle a little more development, but if it gets crazy we’ll definitely need to have a new water plant.”
If more people move to Eudora, the demand on city services would increase. Boyd’s staff is already stretched thin, as he is currently three workers short. The Public Works staff might need to double, Boyd said.
A regional approach
Eudora is not alone in the scramble to address growth from Panasonic. Lawrence, De Soto, Baldwin City, and Johnson and Douglas counties are all trying to prepare for housing and other infrastructure development.
The Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence-Douglas County has played an instrumental role in strategic planning over the past few months.
Bonnie Lowe, president of the group, sees the number of people expected to move to Douglas County as a positive.
“One of our top priorities is housing in all price ranges to help with the numbers of people that will be coming to our community,” Lowe said. “It’s really a win-win situation. They’ll be eating at our restaurants, spending money in our downtown.”
Lowe said solutions could include vertical units, like putting an apartment building above a community center. This is similar to an idea already suggested by Eudora developer GW Weld for the Eudora library.
The group brought on Rob Richardson as Panasonic opportunities manager about a month ago. In that time, he’s met with officials from Eudora, Lawrence, Baldwin City and more to discuss their goals and long-term plans.
With production projected to start at Panasonic in March 2025, a lot has to happen before then. Richardson says the first Panasonic employees to move to the area will be upper-level management.
A central message from city officials is that they want to hear from Eudora residents — their concerns, wants and needs. Reazin encourages members of the public to attend the City Commission’s bimonthly meetings.
The commission has already met jointly with the School Board. Bruce said the school district is a key player in making sure Eudora grows as a community.
“At this moment, we are such a bedroom community, and what ties us together is that all our kids go to school together,” Bruce said. “I think continuing to support the school district and having them be a partner in what we are doing, since they have as much as we have to deal with, if not more, is important.”
The factory will undoubtedly change the community in many ways, Curnes said. The important thing is to preserve the elements that make Eudora great.
“Our small businesses, our senior community, our excellent schools, our wonderful neighborhoods,” Curnes said. “If we focus on those things and listen to the community members who are the heart of Eudora, we’re going to continue to make Eudora the great place it is.”
What city commissioners are saying
Mayor Tim Reazin: “I’ve had folks ask about risks to the community. My honest answer is I don’t know. I would love to have more people reach out and come to meetings. That’s the best way to hear their questions.”
Vice Mayor Tim Bruce: “How do we do our best to protect the small-town feel while understanding if we’re not growing, then we’re not doing our citizens any justice either? It’s about finding that balance.”
Jolene Cullen: “I welcome the factory to the area and believe we will see lots of positive come from it being here. As with many things, I will be monitoring its progress and addressing anything that may be a concern with the other commissioners and team members.”
Alex Curnes: “We know there’s going to be change in our community in many ways. I think what will be important is keeping the focus on what makes Eudora great.”
Commissioner Roberta Lehmann did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Reach reporter Abby Shepherd at firstname.lastname@example.org
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