© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kansas City Council Endorses Contested Crossroads District TIF

Rendering courtesy of BNIM

The Kansas City council has approved tax breaks for a proposed building renovation in the Crossroads Arts District that has become a focal issue for groups that oppose incentives that the school district cannot afford. 

Ironically, the same project is being hailed as breaking new ground in the sustainability and green architecture movement.

The $13.2 million project would transform an old warehouse building into a headquarters and green architecture showcase for local architecture firm BNIM. 

Developer-philanthropist Shirley Helzberg asked for a tax increment financing plan involving 23-year property tax abatement, and that request was approved by the City Council on Thursday. 

As part of the process, the Kansas City School District had negotiated a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal amounting to about $295,000 over the 23-year period plus a one-time $50,000 gift from the developer.

At Thursday's council legislative session, enthusiasm was high for BNIM, the project and the developer. 

Several council members, including economic development chair Scott Taylor and Mayor Sly James spoke glowingly of the innovative environmentally beneficial aspects of the design and the “fit” between the “green” industry jobs involved and Kansas City's positioning as a leader among “sustainable” cities.

Jolie Justus noted that the planned building would produce as much energy as it consumes. Katheryn Shields commented that it is already being talked about at architectural and environmental conferences. 

Two council members, Scott Wagner and Lee Barnes, had objections, but they were based on what they said were needs for improvement in the way the city qualifies projects for tax abatement, and not about the specific project or its developer or planned tenant.

Anti-incentive forces oppose the TIF. 

Jennifer Wolfsie, a parent in the district started an online petition and email campaign protesting the granting of any tax breaks that would take money away from the cash-strapped schools.

Her efforts were joined by the Citizens for Responsible Government group that recently conducted a petition drive to attempt to force a public vote on tax incentives granted to developers of the planned downtown convention hotel.

Both Dan Coffey of that group and Wolfsie hinted that if the council approved the tax breaks, there could be a petition signature drive similar to the one on the hotel issue.

Coffey said at that time that his group opposes tax increment financing in any area that is in sound economic shape or has “turned the corner” financially.  He mentioned downtown, the Crossroads and the Plaza as examples.

The council's Legal Review Committee and the city attorney say that TIFs are not subject to reversal by a public vote because approving the tax breaks is a power granted by the state.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.