Government & Politics

Petitioners fighting Helzberg TIF turn in final batch of signatures

A rendering of the proposed BNIM headquarters in the Crossroads district.
A rendering of the proposed BNIM headquarters in the Crossroads district.

A group opposing incentives for philanthropist Shirley Helzberg to renovate a building for BNIM architects turned in its final batch of signatures Wednesday to the Kansas City clerk’s office.

The group needed 360 more valid signatures for its referendum effort and turned in far in excess of that, more than 1,200 signatures. Election authorities still must determine if there are sufficient signatures, and the count is expected next week.

The group of Kansas City school district parents and others is seeking to overturn City Council-approved incentives to renovate a vacant warehouse at 1640 Baltimore Ave. into a new headquarters for BNIM. The petitioners object to the $5.2 million in tax increment financing over 23 years for the $13.2 million project.

They want the council to repeal the incentives or put them on an election ballot next year. But BNIM has said that it needs to be in the new headquarters by next December and can’t wait for the outcome of an election next spring.

The City Council last week floated a compromise to try to save the project. The city agreed to put more money into the project, which would free up other funds to go to the other taxing jurisdictions, including the school district.

But at the clerk’s office Wednesday, Gayle Hill, a member of the committee of petitioners, said many of the petition signers weren’t interested in compromise and they want the voters to decide the fate of the incentives.

Steve McDowell, chief executive officer of BNIM, said Wednesday that his firm had been hoping the compromise would allow the project to proceed, especially since the city’s offer provided the amount of payment in lieu of taxes that the school district had originally sought.

McDowell said the firm has no interest in an election and does not believe that is a good approach to economic development in the city.

“We’re disappointed the petitioners have decided to pursue this agenda,” he said.

He still hoped something could be worked out but said the firm may soon have to start exploring other options or different locations for its new headquarters.

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who worked on the city’s compromise offer, said she attended a meeting late Wednesday with Helzberg and other members of the development team and several petitioners. She said all sides want to resolve the dispute, but they didn’t reach an agreement, and it wasn’t clear what solution would satisfy all sides.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley