Landowners running up the price when a national brand had interest in Dodge, city leaders said before putting an option on 115 acres.

Looking to avoid the issues that killed a previous attempt to bring a new big box retailer into Dodge City, the City Commission agreed to a $100,000 fixed price purchase option agreement for up to five parcels northeast of the city limits.

The city will pay $25,000 quarterly for a year to John and Twyla Harding for the option to eventually purchase between 102 and 115 acres northeast of 112 Road along U.S. Highway 50, a location identified by the city's development recruitment consultant as a prime location for a large retail development.

Dial Corporation, a Midwest retail management firm, and CBC Real Estate group, the city's outside investment consultant, agreed that it would be beneficial for the city to secure the property to help recruit a big box "anchor" store to build in the city, City Attorney Ken Strobel said, Monday.

"We aren't obligating ourselves to purchase the property but we are putting ourselves in a much better position," Strobel said. With the purchase option, the city could walk from the agreement with a loss of $25,000 to $100,000 to secure an estimated $3.3 million to $3.7 million location. Cash paid through the option agreement would go toward the final purchase.

At any moment in the option agreement, the city could purchase the land for an average price of $32,000 per acre, though more likely the option would be transferred to a developer.

The Harding property is one of three the city and its development consultants have eyed to host the potential retail boost the city has been seeking for years. The area around Boot Hill Casino was originally seen as the strongest candidate for growth and is covered by one of the city's two tax-diversion STAR bonds districts.

When a larger retailer agrees to invest in Dodge City, the casino area STAR bonds district will be moved to accommodate, and the STAR bonds district downtown will be expanded to include the proposed Leisure Group hotel and area covered under the recently-passed commercial tax-incentive district.

The 100-acre Kirby property at 1601 14th Ave. is another strong candidate, and with 14th Avenue's existing retail, perhaps the most obvious for retail development.

However, northeast Dodge City is seeing new housing development through the continuing Summerlon expansion, is along a major state thoroughfare. Within months the VA clinic at Fort Dodge will also move to Summerlon, potentially ignited tangential development in that area.

Strobel, City Manager Cherise Tieben, members of the City Commission and Joann Knight of the development corporation say there is nothing inked with an "anchor retailer" at this point.

Knight has said that smaller retailers have expressed interest in Dodge City but are waiting to see until a big-draw store signs on the line.

Commissioner Kent Smoll said the purchase option makes sense in that it prevents landowners from inflating their asking price when they discover they are dealing with a deep-pocketed national brand. That scenario sank a deal with the home improvement giant Lowes in the past, he added.

City-secured land for development has also been seen a key element in Garden City's retail boom, a recommendation made in a 2005 analysis of the city's strengths and weaknesses. Early successes then encouraged companies without the research departments or willingness to bet on southwest Kansas to follow.