Petitioners sticking to their guns on BNIM TIF, demanding that the matter goes to an April vote

Petitioners concerned about public subsidies for a Crossroads office building aren’t yielding: They want an April vote on whether developer Shirley Helzberg can leverage public dollars for a new BNIM headquarters. 

In a letter sent to Jackson County Executive Frank White’s chief of staff Calvin Williford, a committee of petitioners brushed aside proposals that have been considered by politicians in recent weeks to try and make the BNIM deal more palatable.

“From the beginning, the committee has been clear and consistent that our opposition to the project was not only financial, but due to the diversion of taxes to pay for renovation of a building located in a thriving neighborhood,” the letter to Williford reads. “In our view, if it can’t be done in the Crossroads without incentives, then it shouldn’t be done.”

Jan Parks, a spokeswoman for the petitioners, tells The Pitch that negotiations haven’t included petitioners.

“We kept hearing that somehow or another that we were part of it but that’s not the case,” she says.

Parks is among several who contend that a wealthy philanthropist and developer like Helzberg should be able to construct a modern building for a successful architecture firm like BNIM without diverting future taxes to Kansas City Public Schools, Jackson County, the Kansas City Public Library and other taxing jurisdictions.

Helzberg has sought tax increment financing, a tool that redirects future incremental growth in property and economic activity taxes generated by the project itself to defray construction costs. In this project’s case, half of the earnings taxes paid by BNIM employees and half the sales taxes if, say, a restaurant were part of the building. Then new increases in property taxes at 1640 Baltimore (the old warehouse that Helzberg wants to turn into BNIM’s new headquarters) would go back to the project, too. It doesn’t mean that taxing jurisdictions like KCPS get less money than before, just that they won’t share in the increases of property taxes from a shiny new building on that property for at least 23 years.

In Helzberg’s case, $5 million of the $13 million project cost would come from these redirected taxes.

Ever since petitioners rounded up enough signatures to either ask the Kansas City Council to repeal Helzberg’s TIF plan or put to a public vote in April, city, school and county officials have negotiated a maze of financial maneuvers to lessen the impact on taxing jurisdictions. While those discussions have gained some traction among taxing jurisdictions, they don’t signal meaningful change for the petitioners.

“For years, city officials have been unable or unwilling to tackle substantive and comprehensive incentive reform and cannot do so on a project-by-project basis because every project can be rationalized and then negotiated, as is occurring now,” the letter reads.

BNIM is a tenant in the old TWA headquarters at 18th Street and Main, which is mostly occupied by advertising firm Barkley. BNIM’s lease expires in November, and the petition has forestalled construction on the new building. 

We’ve reached out to BNIM principal Steve McDowell to see what options he’s considering for his firm’s future headquarters. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Categories: News