Government & Politics

KC Council tries to salvage Helzberg/BNIM TIF project

The proposed state-of-the-art, environmentally progressive headquarters for the BNIM architecture firm at 1640 Baltimore Ave.
The proposed state-of-the-art, environmentally progressive headquarters for the BNIM architecture firm at 1640 Baltimore Ave. File illustration

The Kansas City Council on Thursday floated a compromise plan to try to save a tax-incentive development by Shirley Helzberg and appease a group of petitioners working to kill the tax breaks.

The council unanimously approved a measure calling for the city to contribute more of its own tax dollars into the project at 1640 Baltimore Ave. Council members said that contribution, plus additional developer payments, should help the schools.

Petitioners had complained that the schools were hurt by the tax incentive deal. But they could not be reached for comment Thursday, and it wasn’t clear this compromise would satisfy them.

They are asking that the project be put to a public vote next spring.

“This is an attempt to reach out to the taxing jurisdictions and especially the petitioners in the hope that this offer will generate support from the petitioners and terminate the referendum,” said lawyer Jerry Riffel, representing Helzberg’s development company, Walnut Creek Ranch LLC.

The City Council on Oct. 29 supported tax incentives to renovate a vacant warehouse at 1640 Baltimore Ave. into a state-of-the-art, environmentally progressive headquarters for the BNIM architecture firm.

But the group of Kansas City school district parents and civil rights and social justice activists objected to the $5.2 million in tax-increment-financing for the $13 million project. They argued it redirected too much school district property tax money back to the development over the 23-year life of the TIF. They have gathered referendum petition signatures to try to kill the deal.

The measure Thursday calls for the city to provide an additional $350,000 for public infrastructure such as lights and sewers to support the project. Supporters said that city contribution should help free up additional developer funds and increase the annual payment to the taxing jurisdictions, particularly benefiting the Kansas City school district.

The payment in lieu of taxes would increase from $10,000 to $40,000 annually, which was the amount the school district had originally requested.

“We are willing to do this,” Councilwoman Jolie Justus said, adding that she hoped it would foster a productive conversation with the petitioners and save a good project and company in the Crossroads.

If the petition leaders don’t agree to the council’s offer, they could still torpedo the project since BNIM has said it needs to move into a new headquarters next year and can’t wait for the outcome of an election.

The council also approved a resolution calling for a comprehensive economic incentives data study, to avoid such friction in the future and help the city work more collaboratively and productively with the taxing jurisdictions such as the schools, libraries and Jackson County on future development projects.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley