Funkhouser, in switch, now backs Bannister Mall redevelopment plan
By KEVIN COLLISON
The Kansas City Star Mayor Mark Funkhouser, who recently said he “could not stomach” extraordinary tax incentives for a Bannister Mall redevelopment plan anchored by a Wizards soccer stadium, now supports the deal.
Funkhouser’s newfound support of super TIF for the project came as a City Council committee approved a $949 million Bannister Mall plan that in some respects exceeds the scale of the Power & Light District downtown. The Bannister area plan is scheduled to go before the full council today, where it is expected to be approved.
The mayor’s apparent shift on city incentives for the project came just days after he said at a public appearance that he “could not stomach 23 years of super TIF” for the project. His comment prompted a spasm of lobbying and negotiations in recent days.
Funkhouser said that amended legislation introduced Wednesday at the council’s Finance and Audit Committee would give the city the opportunity to continue to work with the developer to reduce the need for super TIF. The mayor also acknowledged that the state would not supply aid without super TIF.
“We’re going to approve the super TIF because we need state participation in this,” Funkhouser said Wednesday. “I support this. It’s an enormously beneficial project.”
The Three Trails redevelopment plan for the Bannister area has strong neighborhood backing in south Kansas City, where it is being touted as an opportunity to reverse the fortunes of an area that has been declining for years.
“Our community is passionate about this project,” said Councilwoman Cathy Jolly, whose district includes Bannister Mall.
The huge project, backed by top executives at Cerner Corp., calls for changing the environment of the 467-acre development site by demolishing the closed Bannister Mall and Benjamin Plaza shopping center. In their place, plans call for building an 18,500-seat soccer stadium; a 12-field tournament soccer complex; a 250-room hotel; up to 1.1 million square feet of retail; and up to 1.7 million square feet of office space.
The plan also calls for creating a $10 million neighborhood benefit district, with $2 million advanced up front by the developer, which would provide grants, loans and other assistance for commercial and residential property owners near the development site.
Funkhouser said the amended agreement, reached late Tuesday, represented “a reasonable deal for the city. This gives us time to stay engaged with the developer and get the support from the state it deserves.”
Even so, Funkhouser’s new position suggests that he didn’t have enough votes on the council to prevail in resisting super TIF. Jolly and Councilman John Sharp, who also represents the area, had been confident they could rally enough council votes to approve the redevelopment plan regardless of the mayor’s opposition.
Still, Robb Heineman, the president of OnGoal LLC, the owner of the Wizards, said he was pleased that the mayor supported the committee’s recommendation.
“What we’re most excited about is we have the mayor’s support,” he said.
The Three Trails plan was unveiled in early September by Lane4 Property Group. The developer had been hired last spring by the Wizards to pursue the goal of having a new stadium built for the team by 2010.
Strong interest in the pro sports stadium was expressed around the metropolitan area, particularly Olathe. But Lane4 was attracted to the Bannister Mall site because of its good access from throughout the area and the community interest in revitalizing the property.
Two of the owners of the soccer team, Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, also are top executives at Cerner. The Kansas City-based medical software firm recently occupied part of the former Marion Laboratories complex just south of the Bannister Mall property and expects to ultimately house 2,000 employees there.
The Bannister Mall plan is seeking $273 million in tax incentives and other help from the city and state, about 29 percent of the eventual cost. That assistance is needed in part because developers estimate that it will cost at least $120 million to acquire the property, demolish about 2.5 million square feet of buildings and prepare the site for construction.
The most heavily subsidized part of the project would be early on to help build the stadium, hotel and tournament soccer complex. That cost is estimated at $143 million, with $78 million, or 54 percent, being supplied by tax incentives.
The development deal required the city to use many of the tools in its development arsenal, including regular tax-increment financing, super TIF and a transportation development district. But it does not ask the city to use its creditworthiness to back the bonds for the project, something the city’s new economic development and incentive policy opposes.
Besides objecting to super TIF, which allows all local taxes generated by a project to be diverted to help defray eligible costs, Funkhouser had also expressed skepticism regarding a letter from Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder advising the mayor that the city would have to furnish super TIF assistance to trigger the state aid.
At the committee meeting Wednesday, the mayor prefaced his announcement in support of super TIF by saying he remained concerned about the city’s financial condition, describing it as “precarious.”
Funkhouser acknowledged that he had been lobbied by supporters but said “I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.… I’m trying to do follow my best judgment about this deal.”