The economic development folks in Johnson County should be licking their chops.
BNIM architects, embroiled in a development project that is seeking tax increment financing in Kansas City, would be a dandy tenant on the west side of the state line, where TIF and other tax incentives are almost a sure thing. That is particularly true in areas of Johnson County other than the Shawnee Mission School District, where Superintendent Jim Hinson is cautious about TIFs.
Ed Eilert, Johnson County chairman and former longtime mayor of Overland Park, has a broad view of when tax increment financing is appropriate. “Renovation of old property or redevelopment of run-down, failing retail or office centers is a legitimate use of TIF,” he said.
If that definition were applied in Kansas City, the vacant warehouse where BNIM wants to relocate would be a slam-dunk.
The Kansas City Council is not to blame if BNIM or any other company throws in the towel and looks elsewhere for a corporate location. The council voted resoundingly to approve tax increment financing for this project.
But shortsighted zealots want to gather 3,400 signatures to put the incentives to a public vote, to either deny the TIF or kill the project through delays.
BNIM wants to renovate a long-abandoned warehouse in downtown’s Crossroad Arts District, 1640 Baltimore Ave. That would seem to easily fit the definition of a property that would be prime for tax increment financing.
The empty warehouse is owned by philanthropist Shirley Helzberg. A TIF would allow her to capture 100 percent of new property taxes generated by the project’s improvements over 23 years, along with part of the sales and earnings taxes. Helzberg has received commitments from the City Council for $5.2 million in tax incentives for the $13 million project. Those incentives may now be up in the air.
BNIM owners say its headquarters must be relocated by December 2016, and the clock is ticking.
According to BNIM design director Steve McDowell, there is no Plan B if this plan gets delayed or canceled.
What? No Plan B?
Just look across the state line, BNIM. You may lose the ambiance of a renovated old warehouse in the Crossroads neighborhood, but surely there is a place where you would fit just fine, with all the advantages of locating in Johnson County.
It is envisioned that BNIM’s expansion would result in 45 additional jobs over and above the 75 jobs already in place. That alone would get eco devo folks in Johnson County salivating.
If BNIM is ultimately determined to be downtown, lots of other businesses if denied TIF in Kansas City would look to Johnson County.
Clearly, if Kansas City rolls up the welcome mat, there is a big welcome sign just 15 minutes away.
Critics of TIF in Kansas City declare the Helzberg TIF to be a test case. If they can cause this deal to fall apart, they will have sent a message that virtually everything west of Troost Avenue is off limits to TIF.
A test case, indeed.
This is not only a test for TIF critics, it will be a test for Johnson County.
How fast can a developer there put together a package that would entice all those projects rejected in Kansas City?
There is no doubt. If a petition succeeds in killing the Helzberg deal, it will be a long, frigid time before anyone tries a similar project in Kansas City. Missouri has the petition process, where a few voters can force a vote. Kansas does not.
If shortsighted citizens destroy tax-increment financing as a common method for development, the border war will finally be over. Johnson County will be the clear victor.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org