KC Council committee pushes Power & Light developer for more affordable housing

A Kansas City Council committee directed City Manager Troy Schulte Monday to renegotiate an agreement with Power & Light developer Cordish to require that 15 percent of the company’s future downtown apartment projects include affordable housing.

A resolution, sponsored by Councilwomen Alissia Canady and Katheryn Shields, also asked that at least 15 percent of the 600 luxury apartments in two existing Cordish buildings, One Light and Two Light, be set aside as they become available for residents who make no more than the city’s median annual income.

The measure, approved on a 3-0 vote by the ethics and legal review committee, (Chairman Dan Fowler, Councilman Kevin McManus and Canady) asks Schulte to report back to the panel in 30 days.

The committee’s action reflects the council’s misgivings about a 2004 agreement with Cordish that provides a rich package of subsidies for apartment high-rises, starting with the successful One Light and Two Light. These incentives included city-financed construction of parking garages.

The city’s total investment to date in the apartment projects is estimated at $57 million, according to Canady. The agreement was good for 99 years.

When Cordish announced plans earlier this year for Three Light, to be built at Truman Road and Grand Boulevard, city officials expected provisions for a third garage, at a cost of $17.5 million, to sail through the council.

But the city attorney’s office told council members they are under no legal obligation to build the garage because money had not been appropriated as part of the agreement.

Canady and Shields contend that dramatic changes in the downtown housing market and the success of One Light and Two Light make the 2004 deal unsustainable.

“The landscape has changed over the last 14 years,” said Canady, who cited unmet needs in many city departments, including a police request for an additional thirteen additional 911 call takers. Any future dealings with Cordish has to include more upside for city government, she said.

Mayor Sly James, who serves on the committee, said that seeking to retroactively amend agreements undermines the city’s credibility as a business partner.

“This is bad for the city,’ said James. He left the hearing before the vote was taken.

Monday’s measure, which replaces an earlier and more general resolution filed by Canady and Shields, does not take the $17.5 parking garage off the table. Canady said she considered it part of negotiations over the next month.

The revised resolution also makes city investment in construction of Four Light, if there is one, contingent on converting the Cordish-owned Midland Office Building at 13th and Baltimore into affordable apartments. Four Light would also have to meet the 15 percent affordability threshold.

Cordish representatives did not attend the committee meeting. Schulte said company representatives canceled when they learned that at least a portion of the session would be held in public.

Power & Light District executive director Nick Benjamin did not return an e-mailed request for comment.