Wichita is moving away from the use of cash incentives for economic development, except for this.
We’ve been told that the city is not going to use cash incentives for economic development. But an item the Wichita City Council will consider this week includes a cash grant of $10,000.
This grant is part of the city’s facade improvement program. Under it, properties in certain parts of the city can apply to use special assessment financing to pay for the improvement of their outside appearance. The city borrows the funds and advances them to the property owner. The bonds are repaid through special assessment taxes that are added to the property’s tax bill.
This process is similar to the way the city finances improvements such as street, water, and sewer infrastructure in new neighborhoods or commercial developments. Except: The infrastructure in new development becomes the property of the city. For a facade improvement project, the improvements remain private property.
Are facade improvement cash grants an exception to the new era of economic development in Wichita? Or when will we start implementing these new policies? Some might say that the grants are not for the purposes of economic development. If not, then how does the city justify these grants?
There is perhaps an even more important question the city needs to recognize and answer, which is this: Why are incentives like this necessary? The city says that without the incentive the project is not economically feasible: “The Office of Urban Development has reviewed the economic (gap) analysis of the project and determined a financial need for incentives based on the current market.”
(In case council members make the argument that the facade improvement is not an incentive, remind them that city economic development officials disagree.)
What is it that makes this project economically unfeasible? Why is investment not possible without taxpayer assistance? These are the questions the city needs to answer before asking taxpayers to make a cash grant to this building’s owners.