The Kansas City Council reluctantly approved a blight finding Thursday for property just south of Crown Center to pave the way for an $80 million development.
The vote designates an 18.4-acre site, generally between 27th and 30th streets and between Gillham Road and McGee Street, as blighted and in need of redevelopment. The plan folds in two existing tax abatement planning areas that were authorized decades ago for Union Hill and Crown Center into a single tax break area.
The development team includes Kansas City-based UC-B Properties and Indianapolis-based Milhaus, which specializes in high-quality neighborhood infill development. The $80 million plan calls for about 400 residential units, plus commercial space.
The development team has emphasized that it is purchasing the property and that Crown Center and Hallmark Cards are not in any way involved in the development.
Council members indicated they had questions but voted for the blight designation to keep a very worthwhile project moving forward.
Councilman Quinton Lucas said if the council had voted against the blight finding, it would have killed the development. But he also acknowledged that declaring such an area blighted “doesn’t seem to pass the smell test.”
He expressed reservations about how economic incentives are determined in Kansas City and called for a better definition of blight and better policies going forward.
Councilwoman Heather Hall agreed, saying she didn’t see how the words “blighted” and Crown Center could even be in the same sentence.
“It’s hard for me to swallow that pill,” she said.
The amount of tax abatement of the project has not yet been specified. Charles Renner, an attorney for the developer, previously said the project had the potential to add $1 million over a period of years to a fund for East Side development, through payments in lieu of taxes.
But this project could also become another target for critics who say Kansas City has awarded too many tax breaks in prosperous areas and should focus incentives on development east of Troost Avenue.
A coalition of social justice and education advocates argues that Kansas City public schools, libraries and other taxing jurisdictions lose out when the city authorizes overly generous property tax breaks for economic development.
Jan Parks, a spokeswoman for the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity, said Thursday that the coalition is considering mounting a referendum petition drive to overturn the City Council’s latest vote. Earlier this year, that same group derailed tax breaks for a Crossroads Arts District project at 1640 Baltimore Ave.