GOVERNMENT WATCH

Critics called it a ‘bailout,’ but Blue Springs mayor says city was wise to help jumpstart Adams Dairy Landing shopping area.

Updated: 2013-11-06T06:16:22Z

By BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

Blue Springs remains Missouri’s 10th-largest city.

Mayor Carson Ross wonders what it will take to make it No. 9.

“I’m always thinking ahead,” he said. “Maybe all those people coming to Adams Dairy Landing to eat and shop might start thinking about moving here.”

Ross was talking about the open-air shopping center just south of Interstate 70 at Adams Dairy Parkway, which was the subject of controversy at the height of the Great Recession.

The economy was robust when RED Development conceived Adams Dairy Landing. But the recession and accompanying credit crunch removed the market for bonds considered “unrated,” city staffers said at the time.

Without bonds backed by the city, they said, there was no way to get financing in place to help the developer finish parking lots and related work.

Opponents described the city-backed bonds as a “bailout” of the developer, but the Blue Springs City Council approved two separate bond issues to keep the shopping center moving foward.

The first $14.5 million in special obligation bonds, issued in September 2009, was expected to generate $12.1 million for the developer. The following April, the second issue of $16.8 million in bonds was to generate another $14. 4 million.

Today, Ross said, there’s strong evidence that the bonds were a good idea.

The city has received $1,676,650 in sales taxes and fees from Adams Dairy Landing, according to an April update prepared by Assistant City Administrator Christine Cates. That figure represents the revenue received by the city after debt service payments were made on the special obligation bonds.

In addition to those revenues, the Blue Springs School District has received $288,061 and the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District has received $849,376.

The shopping center also has created 1,025 jobs, according to Cates’ report.

Still, Ron Fowler, a Blue Springs City Council member who opposed the bonds, said recently that he continues to disagree with the bond issues.

The city backed the bonds with its full faith and credit. If actual collections fall short of the required debt service payments, the city will have to make up the difference.

“While I appreciate the work the developer has done, I don’t approve the citizens being held accountable for this debt,” Fowler said.

“Developers should be held accountable for their own work,” he said. “This basically puts developers in a situation where they don’t have the risk of losing money; they are only in the position of making profits.”

Ross takes a different view of the bonds.

“Without them we would not have been able to finish the infrastructure,” the mayor said. “You never know for certain, but I had a pretty good feeling that it was the right thing to do, and I think history has proven that out.”

Ross said that while he campaigned for mayor in 2008, he routinely heard Blue Springs residents express frustration over having to leave the city limits to patronize favorite retailers. A completed Adams Dairy Landing, with expected tenants in place, would prevent a significant percentage of sales tax revenue from leaving the city, he told them.

That continues to be true today, he said.

“No longer are shoppers taking those dollars elsewhere,” Ross said.

“I talk to a lot of shoppers who come here from Grain Valley. This is where they shop now. That’s the kind of position that Blue Springs shoppers used to be in.”

Challenges still remain at Adams Dairy Landing, Ross added.

“I would like to see more sit-down restaurants,” he said. “I also would like us to focus on getting some stores that you can’t find in other communities, to have things that are unique and that will draw more customers.”

About 93 percent of the approximately 550,000 square feet of Adams Dairy Landing retail space is currently leased, Jeff Haney, RED Development’s executive vice president of development, said late last month.

Two smaller retail buildings are nearing completion, he said, and leases with several new tenants are being finalized. Those tenants should be announced soon, he said.

Three years later, there’s no doubt of the importance of the city’s approval of the bonds, Haney added.

“It was critical,” he said.

“It was right in the middle of the recession. Without the city’s commitment to back those bonds, the project probably would have just stopped.”

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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