KCUR News
9:19 am
Wed October 14, 2009

Tax Incentive Delays Risk Losing KCK Stadium Deal

Kansas City, MO – Kansas may be about to botch efforts to lure a corporate office complex and major league soccer stadium to Kansas City, according to some legislators who are pressuring Gov. Mark Parkinson's administration to close a deal.

Medical software maker Cerner Corp. and the owners of the Kansas City Wizards are proposing a $414 million development near NASCAR's Kansas Speedway. The project includes an office complex for 4,500 Cerner employees, an 18,500-seat stadium for the Wizards and two dozen soccer fields for amateur teams.

Kansas Commerce Secretary Dave Kerr told lawmakers Tuesday that he hopes to know by the end of the week whether the state, Cerner and the Wizards can agree on government incentives. Officials said the package - possibly worth more than $300 million - could include $155 million in bonds backed by local sales tax revenues.

During the House Appropriations Committee hearing, Chairman Kevin Yoder pointedly noted that the Cerner project is expected to bring 9,000 jobs to Kansas, compared to the 4,900 new jobs generated by the Department of Commerce's business recruitment efforts during the 12 months ending in June.

"We want to be assured he's doing everything he can to capture these jobs," Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, said during a break. "I think legislators are genuinely concerned."

Kerr said he's working hard to close a deal, though when pressed by legislators he declined to say he's confident. Parkinson spokeswoman Beth Martino said the governor supports Kerr, adding, "He typically does not get involved in ongoing negotiations that the secretary has with business groups."

The commerce secretary disclosed little about the talks with Cerner and OnGoal LLC, the Wizards' owner, saying the negotiations are confidential. OnGoal's principals include two Cerner founders.

Representatives from Cerner and the Wizards also declined to comment.

Yoder said he worries Missouri officials will renew efforts to keep Cerner employees and the Wizards on that state's side of the Kansas City metro area.

"We should be concerned if we miss the window of opportunity," said Rep. Tom Burroughs, a Democrat from Kansas City and a member of the Appropriations Committee. "It's a shovel-ready project."

Bonds backed by sales tax revenues were used to develop retail and entertainment sites around Kansas Speedway. Those bonds were to be retired in 2020 but will be paid off by 2014.

Kerr said a key issue is whether to dedicate the freed-up sales tax revenues, about $32 million a year, to the Cerner-Wizards project instead of letting it flow to state government.

But Mike Taylor, a spokesman for Wyandotte County's government, said: "We look at the numbers and the number of jobs and all that it brings, and there's a question with a lot of citizens in our community, why isn't this a done deal already?"

Still, not all legislators were worried about Kansas' efforts. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said Kerr is simply performing "due diligence."

And Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican, said, "The secretary has everything under control."