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Mayor Sly James Defends East Side Development Incentive Plan

KCCG, Channel 2

A development incentive plan Mayor Sly James calls the Shared Success Fund faced its first criticism in a city council committee Wednesday.

The mayor wants to tap into the developer-incentive system to set aside money the city could use to help support other developments in areas with low incomes, high unemployment and a lack of new construction. 

James says the vast majority of the area that would qualify is the east-central area of Kansas City south of the river.

One scenario James uses to describe how the program would work involves redirecting part of a developer's payment-in-lieu-of-taxes on a development in a non-crisis area that receives tax abatement.

The mayor asked the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee this week to endorse a resolution to have the city manager work out the details of the “shared success” program.

First District Councilwoman Heather Hall expressed the strongest doubts about the idea. Hall has frequently questioned whether the city offers incentives to developers when none are needed. 

She said the plan seemed to her to be an attempt to salvage a very small portion of tax revenues the city was giving away unnecessarily to begin with.

Mayor James vehemently disagreed, saying here underlying assumption – that the projects would be build and produce tax revenue whether they receive incentives or not – is wrong. 

The mayor said his experience on commissions that recommend the tax breaks is that most requests for incentives are turned down and most projects where incentives were sought but not granted never get built.

Others questioned whether there was too much focus on the “east of Troost” area when there are other areas of the city which have a serious lack of development.

James commented that his original idea did not single out any area as the sole recipient of Shared Success incentives.

But, he said, one would have to be blind not to recognize that the most pressing need is in a particular set of census tracts and he hoped a proportionate share of the money would flow to that area.

“If you've got a big elephant,” James commented, “it's going to eat more than the mouse.  But the mouse still needs to be fed.”

The committee voted to put the mayor's resolution on hold for two weeks so it could be fine-tuned to respond to some committee questions and include more specifics on what kind of program the committee is asking the city manager to develop.

Steve Bell is afternoon news anchor and business news reporter for KCUR.  He may be reached at 816-235-5173 or by e-mail as steveb@kcur.org

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