Kansas City area taxpayers often are run over when it comes to economic development deals.
By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
The Kansas City Star
Two cushy incentive projects greased for approval in Overland Park and Kansas City help prove that point.
Developers have worked hard to convince elected officials, city staff members, school board leaders and citizens groups that — hey — if you want some economic growth slapped on your community, you’ve got to pay the piper.
• Once upon a time, Overland Park officials such as former Mayor Ed Eilert played the tough guy role on taxpayer subsidies.
Overland Park, stated Eilert, didn’t need to hand out lots of goodies to attract businesses. Instead, the city made sure it offered superior schools, streets and sewers. Growth followed those basic amenities, and that approach worked for years.
But the city eventually granted a huge public subsidy for Sprint which — when that company couldn’t fill all its property — led to even more incentive-laden deals to take the space the telecom giant was supposed to use.
Which brings us to the over-the-top costly Teva Neuroscience deal.
This agreement would encourage a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar company to jump the state line and come to the bustling College Boulevard corridor in return for tens of millions of dollars from Kansas taxpayers.
Overland Park officials on Monday approved $65 million in bonds and property tax abatements to make sure Teva builds its new headquarters in the fast-growing suburb.
Why, you might wonder, aren’t Kansas and Overland Park using millions of dollars instead to woo businesses from other states to bring some net job growth to this region?
Please don’t ask such logical questions.
Gov. Sam Brownback and state economic development gurus don’t care enough about this metropolitan area’s overall growth even though it sadly lags that of many other large regions. That’s partly because narrowly focused officials on both sides of the state line are too busy stealing businesses from each other.
Teva Neuroscience soon will get what it wants which, according to the city staff report, is “proximity to the Overland Park convention center and the city’s other amenities.”
Wait a minute.
Didn’t the public help build all those amenities partly to attract companies like Teva, per Eilert’s tactics many years ago? Absolutely. But now taxpayers will have to shell out again to actually get the businesses to come to Overland Park. Disgraceful.
• Journey to the Shoal Creek area of Kansas City north of the Missouri River and you’ll see large numbers of newer houses for middle- and upper-income residents.
The city years ago granted taxpayer subsidies to spur development of pastureland up north, figuring the public had to step forward and create a suburban-like setting in Kansas City. (I’m joking. Kind of.)
Now a request is pending for yet another handout — up to a reported $33 million — to bring a $140 million retail and office project to the fast-growing Northland.
Liberty school board officials told me this week that they had worked to change the original proposal to something that should guarantee millions of new dollars for the district.
Of course, if the center were being built without corporate welfare, the city and the schools would get every penny of taxes they are entitled to without having to grovel to work out special deals with development lawyers.
Still, the Shoal Creek Town Center backers always could threaten that — unless the city and school district complied — the shopping center could hop over to be built in nearby Liberty. Or it could go somewhere in the North Kansas City School District.
On Wednesday the Tax Increment Financing Commission endorsed the retail project. Soon, the Kansas City Council will rubberstamp the Shoal Creek deal, just as Overland Park did for Teva Neuroscience.
In the bizarro world of economic development, taxpayers are used to having their pockets emptied to subsidize these fiscally questionable agreements.
Reach Yael T. Abouhalkah at 816-234-4887 or email him at email@example.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. He appears on “Ruckus” at 7 tonight on KCPT, Channel 19. Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah