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Kansas City Council gave $700,000 to a donor who wants to build roundabouts near the airport

A graphic shows a roundabout surrounded by hotels and stores.
Aristocrat Realty
A rendering of Richard Chaves Jr.'s development plan at a site located near the Kansas City airport shows a roundabout, commercial space and a private parking garage. The city council approved $700,000 to construct the roundabouts on Thursday.

Richard Chaves Jr. pumped nearly $30,000 into city council campaigns during the most recent election cycle. He wants to build roundabouts, a parking garage and commercial space near the airport — and wants city money to do it.

The Kansas City Council approved giving $700,000 in taxpayer money to a private developer who donated thousands to councilmembers’ campaigns to build two roundabouts near the airport terminal in the Northland.

The council voted 9-2 on Thursday to greenlight the subsidy, with one abstention. The money would go to Richard Chaves Jr., the management director of Parking Company of America LLC. The two roundabouts, which would be located off the Interstate 29 offramps by Cookingham Drive, are part of a larger $5.5 million project from Chaves to develop a parking garage and a retail site that includes hotels, stores and restaurants to serve people coming to and from the airport.

Political contributions

Chaves’s request for city money comes as he has pumped thousands of dollars into political groups and candidates during the most recent city council elections.

Chaves is listed as a committee officer for the Northland Strong PAC, according to Missouri Ethics Commission filings. The relatively new organization touts itself as “giving a voice to the Northland,” and supports candidates who are pro-police and pro-development, specifically in the Northland.

In the most recent city council elections,eight Northland Strong candidates won their races.

According to Missouri Election Commission filings from July, Kansas City Airport Parking LLC, which owns the proposed development site, donated $35,000 to Northland Strong PAC, making it one of the group’s largest donors.

MEC filings also show Chaves has donated nearly $30,000 to Mayor Quinton Lucas and six current city council members — Lindsay French, Eric Bunch, Crispin Rea, Ryana Parks-Shaw, Darrell Curls and Andrea Bough — during the most recent election cycle.

Lucas received $8,150 from Chaves — the most compared to other council members. 2nd District At-Large Councilwoman Lindsay French received the second-highest contribution from Chaves, at $5,950.

The only council member to receive money from Chaves who voted no on the ordinance was 4th District Councilman Bunch. 6th District At-Large Councilwoman Bough, who also received money from Chaves, voted to abstain.

Jensen, the attorney representing Chaves, also donated at least $7,265 to nine city council candidates and Mayor Lucas.

Public opposition

As the developer, Chaves wants the city to cover the full $5.5 million cost of the project through economic development incentive tools, but has yet to put in an application.

Patricia Jensen, an attorney representing the developer, told city council that the developer needs the $700,000 to begin constructing the roundabout after reaching an agreement with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Chaves wants the roundabouts to provide better access to other amenities on the project site.

Previous city councils in 2021 and 2022 passed legislation supporting redevelopment of about 87 acres of land around Cookingham Drive and I-29 in the Northland. That included rezoning the area to make way for Chaves’s vision. The redevelopment is located near the Ambassador Building, which is the former headquarters of Farmland Industries.

Chaves said construction has already started on a private parking garage with about 4,000 spaces. But the city already has several parking lots to serve people coming to and from the airport.

6th District Councilman Johnathan Duncan also voted against giving the project money.

“Why we would incentivize or provide incentives to a project that's in direct competition with a city-owned parking lot is beyond me,” Duncan said. “It is not good policy, in my view.”

Several Kansas City residents opposed Chaves’s ask on Wednesday. No one appeared to testify in support of the funding.

Kansas City resident Brynne Musser criticized the ordinance using a reference to The Godfather.

“You come into our city hall on the day that our kids are getting out early because schools don't have central air conditioning, and you ask us to do roundabouts for your business and you want TIF money,” Musser said. “This we cannot do. I actually can't think of a bigger waste of money.”

A pending TIF Application

The ask for a $700,000 subsidy for two roundabouts is just the first step for Chaves. Jensen said Chaves plans to submit an application for tax increment financing in the next three weeks.

Tax increment financing (TIF) is an economic development tool in Kansas City that takes increases in property taxes and other taxes and directs that revenue to subsidize the development, which can include public infrastructure costs and other improvements. TIFs are geographically based, meaning Kansas City officials have to designate an area as “blighted, substandard and economically underutilized,” usually at the request of a developer.

In Kansas City, the Tax Increment Financing Commission oversees TIF applications. Chaves’s TIF application would need to undergo a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the redevelopment site is blighted, and verify that the project would not occur without a TIF.

If the city approves Chaves’s TIF application, Jensen said the revenue generated by the TIF would be enough to cover the city’s $5.5 million commitment and the more than $8 million in public improvement costs. Jensen told city council the developer agreed to reimburse the city first for its $5.5 million commitment.

Jensen estimated that the TIF, if approved, would generate about $17 million. In addition to property tax increases, the TIF would also get revenue from sales taxes.

Duncan questioned why the council would approve funding without the developer first submitting a TIF application and going through a financial analysis.

“It feels like we're putting the cart before the horse,” Duncan said.

In response, Councilwoman Andrea Bough said the council doesn’t have an economic development policy to address those kinds of decisions.

“We need a better economic development policy to put guide rails and to tell us what we should do in this,” Bough said. “In this instance, we don't have something that says, ‘Yes, we should do this, or, no, we shouldn't do this.’ So I think we're all flying a little bit blind.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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