Special TIF Commission meeting called for Tuesday to address Shirley Helzberg’s Crossroads project

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Not content to wait until January, the Tax Increment Financing Commission of Kansas City will meet on Tuesday, a move that will likely hasten the progress on a much-debated Crossroads Arts District redevelopment project.

The TIF Commission on Tuesday will decide whether to rescind a vote from November that put off a development agreement between the commission and philanthropist Shirley Helzberg until January and go ahead and seal the deal this week.

Plenty of ink has been spilled on this matter, here and elsewhere. Helzberg has requested tax-increment financing to assist her with more than $5 million in costs for a larger $13 million project to refashion a building at 1640 Baltimore into a new headquarters office for architecture firm BNIM. TIF would redirect new taxes that otherwise go to City Hall and Kansas City Public Schools, among others, back to the project itself.

The matter has already received the blessing of the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council, so tomorrow’s vote is something of a perfunctory matter. In the ordinary course of things, the development agreement between Helzberg and the TIF Commission would have passed in November. But Phil Glynn, a city appointee to the TIF Commission, voted alongside other non-city taxing jurisdictions to delay the development agreement until January.

That vote got Glynn pulled off the TIF Commission by Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who became concerned that Glynn was exceeding his role as a TIF commissioner by attempting to dictate city policy.

For BNIM, time is of the essence. The architecture firm is leasing space at 17th Street and Main in the old TWA building. That lease runs out in November 2016, so the firm wants to get moving on the redevelopment of the 1640 building that Helzberg has owned for the last 10 years.

One of the things that happens when BNIM moves into a building that’s in a TIF district a block away is half of the company’s and its employees’ earnings taxes otherwise due to City Hall will go to help Helzberg defray the cost of her project. All new property taxes will also go to pay for eligible project costs rather than go to KCPS, Jackson County, the Kansas City Public Library and others.

That’s what has gotten KCPS parents fired up and working on a referendum drive to put the Helzberg TIF to a public vote and trigger a broader conversation about whether the city should continue to encourage development subsidies in well-established areas like the Crossroads. They have until December 8 to submit 3,400 signatures. (They will get a 10-day extension if they haven’t gathered enough by then.) The TIF Commission has a normally-scheduled meeting on December 9. Calling a special meeting on December 1 may be a move intended to firm up contracts between the city and Helzberg, so as to put the legality of the referendum drive into question, like what happened with the convention hotel petition.

[Update: The referendum process can’t be halted in the same manner as the convention hotel petition.]

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