Kansas City is asking Missouri for millions in tax credits to build a park over I-670
The South Loop project has received a quarter of the funds necessary to meet its $200 million budget. Officials hope state tax credits will make park over the downtown loop possible.
Kansas City is inching closer to realizing the dream of an urban park atop a downtown highway.
On Thursday, the Kansas City Council passed an ordinance directing City Manager Brian Platt to apply for $15 million in state tax credits to further fund the $200 million South Loop park — a move that officials hope will make the project viable.
Kansas City officials, along with Port KC and the Downtown Council, are working together on a 5.5 acre urban park that would sit on top of a portion of Interstate 670 downtown — commonly referred to as the South Loop. The park would stretch from Grand Boulevard to Wyandotte Street. Proponents of the project hope an urban park will attract more people downtown and reconnect the Crossroads District to the downtown core.
“This park will deliver new recreational opportunities for residents and visitors, provide a green mobility hub offer, climate responsive design, and ongoing programming for recreational and wellness activities,” said Melissa Kozakiewicz, assistant city manager. “But perhaps most importantly, it creates connectivity between neighborhoods previously separated by the construction of I-670.”
A recent $10 million contribution from H&R Block, plus federal grants and other investments from the private sector, total $47 million toward the South Loop project so far. Now, the city will go to the Missouri Development Finance Board to request state investment through its tax credit contribution program.
Jerry Riffel, a former Kansas City councilman and attorney focused on real estate and development said at a recent council meeting that the tax credit contribution program is the most powerful economic development tool in Missouri. He said it was essential to building Union Station and the stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals.
The city most recently used the state tax credit program to finance construction of the KC Current soccer stadium on the Berkley Riverfront.
“The city has used this tool for a long, long time, more successfully than any city in Missouri, to rebuild its city,” Riffel said.
The state will match half of the money contributed to the Missouri Development Finance Board. The city is requesting $15 million in tax credits to match $30 million of the funds already committed to the project.
If the state approves $15 million in tax credits for the South Loop, Riffel said about $30 million of the money already raised would go into a construction fund the city oversees. He said construction will begin if the project raises $135 million by January 2024.
But it’s not even halfway funded yet — and it’s unclear if the city will end up footing the rest or how much that would cost.
Some council members are concerned about the project and its large price tag. Dan Fowler, 2nd District Councilman, was one of three to vote against the state tax credit. He said he still doesn’t know who will own the South Loop, who will maintain it and who will replace it down the road.
“I think those are fundamental questions and until those get answered, I can't support anything having to do with the South Loop,” he said.
While an urban park would mitigate some of the problems caused by freeways — like higher rates of asthma among kids who live near them — 3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said the city’s focus on the South Loop shouldn’t come at the expense of marginalized communities.
“What this oftentimes says to the community, the people that live in the 3rd District and other impoverished areas, is that we care more about visitors than we care about them,” Robinson said.
4th District Councilman Eric Bunch echoed those concerns.
“This project really does show that cities can intervene and address some of those long-standing issues that are associated with urban freeways,” he said. “But who benefits from those interventions?”
Last year, the city received a federal grant to study improvements to Highway 71, which divided majority Black neighborhoods in the southeast and is a hot spot for crashes and fatalities. Earlier this year, Kansas City received another federal grant to help reconnect the West Side, a predominantly Latino neighborhood that was devastated by the construction of Interstate 35.
“We need to keep the momentum going on those other ones that are truly affecting communities of color communities, who've been, again, dealing with these things for decades,” Bunch said.
There will be a public meeting to discuss the South Loop project on Tuesday, April 11, from 5-7 p.m. at 61 E 14th Street.