On the City of Wichita’s cable channel 7, Kansas City’s Power & Light District is presented as a model for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer sees this district as Wichita’s competition.
So yesterday I went to take a look for myself. And I agree with the mayor. It’s a neat place. It’s huge. It would be great if Wichita had something like it.
But there are problems surfacing already. Although I haven’t yet done extensive research, it appears that the troubles stem from the public/private partnership nature of the district.
One problem is the tax increment financing district, or TIF district, that underlies the district. It appears to be underperforming: “The biggest project, the Kansas City Power & Light District, will cost the city more than $4 million because there wasn’t sufficient economic activity to cover TIF bond payments.” (TIF bonds take a bite out of KC’s skinny budget, Kansas City Business Journal, February 9, 2009)
In Wichita, when we have underperforming TIF districts, we might make an interest-free loan to solve the problem.
The district and Jackson County are squabbling over the taxable value of this property, too. And it’s not a small disagreement — the owners and the county disagree by a huge amount:
The developer of the Kansas City Power & Light District refers to the project on its Web site as an $850 million project.
Yet The Cordish Co. claims in a lawsuit and to county officials that the project’s value — at least its appraised valuation — should be $12.3 million when the project is complete.
That valuation, which equates to an average of about $24 a square foot, is a far cry from Jackson County’s appraised value of $160 million, roughly $270 a square foot, which is what county officials say the district is worth for 2009. (Power & Light District developer seeks bargain-basement valuation, Kansas City Business Journal, January 16, 2009)
The developer of the district seems to have a few issues, too, writes a Kansas City Star columnist: “Cordish Co. CEO David Cordish comes across as a petulant, greedy, uninformed developer in his e-mail rantings to KC Mayor Mark Funkhouser.”
In Wichita and across the country, public/private partnerships have a mixed record. We’ll want to think carefully whether we want to rely on the artificial nature of subsidized development as we think about the revitalization of downtown Wichita.