The controversial $1.8 billion Brookridge redevelopment proposal in Overland Park is a step closer to being subsidized with help from taxpayer funds. A special committee told the Shawnee Mission Board of Education Wednesday that it should not use its veto power to stop the creation of a tax increment financing district (TIF).
The creation of a TIF district is a way of diverting property taxes to pay for redevelopment projects. The developers of the Brookridge project, are calling for millions of dollars’ worth of tax rebates and incentives from the public purse, including TIF. The Johnson County Commission and the Shawnee Mission School District both have veto powers over the creation of those districts because their revenues can also be impacted.
Fred Logan, legal counsel for the Shawnee Mission Board, explained the TIF committee’s recommendation. He said this was not about whether the development project was a good one, but whether there’ll be an adverse effect on the district financially. “The TIF committee was not prepared, based on its investigation, to recommend to you, that there would be an adverse effect on the school district,” Logan summarized.
The redevelopment proposal at Interstate 435 and Antioch includes 2 million square feet of office space, more than 350,000 square feet of retail space, 2 hotels and more than 2,000 apartments.
Dr. Jim Hinson, the Shawnee Mission superintendent, agreed with Logan and explained the issue another way. “So for us, if there is not a TIF in place for Brookridge does it drive additional dollars for us to operate with? And the answer is no, because that’s the school finance formula.”
This is the first time the Shawnee Mission Board has used its TIF guidelines, developed last year with inputs from the 14 cities within the school district’s boundaries. However, the recommendation from the Board’s TIF committee on the Brookridge project was made with limited information on the specifics of the actual redevelopment. This concerned board member, Cindy Neighbor.
“I would like for it to be noted that I am not in favor of this, and I will tell you why. I think there are too many unknowns,” she said. “We’re saying, ‘Okay, this is okay.’ And we’re not approving it by any means, but we’re facilitating that ability to go ahead,” added Neighbor.
However, board member Deb Zila disagreed. “I think a lot of our community is looking for us - the calls the emails, that we’ve received - about kind of being the white Knight, to come through and disapprove, [and use] veto power for this project,” she said. “Actually, our laser focus has to be on the financial impact to our district as we know it to date.”
Connie Strand lives close to the proposed development and listened to the meeting. “The Board is basically caving in to developers and staff,” she said.
Dwight Arn, president of the Pinehurst Estates Home Owners Association in Overland Park, was also in the audience. Speaking for himself, rather than his association, Arn said the board should be seeking assurances from the developers. “Assurances as to the level of TIF. Their policy is not 90 percent TIF, their policy is 50 to 75 percent. And they disfavor TIF for residential areas, that’s what their policy says and they didn’t even discuss that today.”
Charlotte O’Hara, who is running for Overland Park city mayor as a Republican, was another observer at the meeting who was disappointed with the TIF committee’s recommendation. “Public money should not be going to private developers, period!” she said.
The school board took no action to veto the TIF proposal, effectively giving it the board's approval.
Danny Wood is a freelance reporter for KCUR 89.3.