Anything Goes

Kansas City has no plan for its future. In violation of state law, it gives away tax money to wealthy developers with no worries about whether the money will fulfill the city’s development goals, because the city has no such goals.

Kansas City Councilman Evert Asjes has made a habit of quiet protest. On July 1, after hearing a tax-break proposal for Bannister Mall, he asked his usual question: Will the council ever have a development plan to guide its tax-increment-financing giveaways?

Missouri TIF law requires the city to have a master plan specifically “for the purposes of initiating and carrying out a land clearance project under this law.” In 1998, city auditor Mark Funkhouser noted in a report: “In Kansas City, the use of TIF has been driven by private developers rather than by explicit public strategies and policies.”

Such a plan might say, for example, that helping a downtown law firm relocate to the Country Club Plaza is not a TIF priority. This spring, North Carolina-based Highwoods Properties tried to use TIF money to tear down the fully occupied Park Lane apartment building and replace it with new offices for its lawyers, the Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin firm.

Many citizens questioned how the ritzy Plaza could qualify for a tax break to fight blight. Could the Plaza really be blighted?

Sure — someday. And that’s good enough under Missouri law. In 1997, the Plaza qualified as a “conservation area” — not yet blighted but susceptible to blight without TIF help. Boom — $53.7 million in public subsidies became available for the asking.

After Highwoods executive Barry Brady got away with that, it’s easy to understand why he thought he could corral some of those TIF dollars for Blackwell Sanders. But to Brady’s disappointment, Councilman Jim Rowland blasted the idea, forcing the Highwoods executive to withdraw the plan under public scrutiny.

With public attention elsewhere, Brady continued to evict Park Lane tenants. On June 7, just three months after the Park Lane fiasco, Highwoods announced its plans to codevelop the Plaza Colonnade, an eleven-story structure that will house the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library on its first two floors.

The library brings with it $15 million in TIF, guaranteed by a 1999 plan authored by Highwoods’ newfound partner, development company Copaken, White and Blitt. Surprise: Blackwell Sanders will be the library’s upstairs neighbor.

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