The announcement that a Save-A-Lot grocery store will proceed — contrary to the claims of developers and city staff who rely on their information — should provide a lesson that yes, economic development in Wichita can and will happen without public assistance. Additionally, examination of the public hearing for this matter before the Wichita City Council last September should teach us to be very cautious in relying on the claims of people who have a huge economic stake in obtaining public assistance.
At a city council public hearing on both the Community Improvement District and Tax Increment financing district last September, developer Rob Snyder sought public assistance in the form of a tax increment financing district (TIF) and a Community Improvement District (CID). Over a period of years, the two forms of subsidy were estimated to be worth $900,000 to the developer. The project’s total cost was presented as slightly over $2 million.
(By the way, in its recent coverage of this matter, the Wichita Eagle has an incorrect recording of events. The Eagle reported, referring to the Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission: “The boards ultimately rejected the financing, despite support from some officials.” Actually, the city council unanimously approved both the CID and TIF. Then, the county commission exercised its statutory prerogative to veto the formation of a TIF district. The commission has no authority to intervene in the formation of CIDs.)
As part of his presentation to the council Allen Bell, Wichita’s Director of Urban Development explained that to be eligible for TIF, developers must demonstrate a “gap,” that is, an analytical finding that conventional financing is not sufficient for the project, and public assistance is required: “We’ve done that. We know, for example, from the developer’s perspective in terms of how much they will make in lease payments from the Save-A-Lot operator, how much that is, and how much debt that will support, and how much funds the developer can raise personally for this project. That has, in fact, left a gap, and these numbers that you’ve seen today reflect what that gap is.”
Snyder told the council that without the public assistance, there will be no grocery store: “We have researched every possible way, how do we make this project work with the existing funding that’s available to us. … We might as well say if for some reason we can’t figure out how to get this funding to go through, there won’t be a shopping center over there.”
Greg Ferris, a former city council member who lobbies local government on behalf of clients, was adamant in his insistence that the grocery store could not be built without public financing: “There will not be a building on that corner if this is not passed today. … That new building would not be built. I absolutely can tell you that because we have spent months … trying to figure out a way to finance a project in that area. A grocery store is not going to move into the Planeview area to service those people just like they didn’t move into the area at 13th and Grove until the city subsidized that with several hundred thousand dollars of city money. … What you’ve heard is misinformation. … This project just won’t happen and the people of Planeview will suffer.”
Now, we see that the financing gap has been closed, and without government assistance. The claims that a grocery store can’t be built in that neighborhood without welfare for developers have been demonstrated to be false.
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer has referred to those who oppose government intervention like TIF and CID as “naysayers.” Here’s an example where free markets, capitalism, and economic freedom have overcome Wichita’s true naysayers: those who say it can’t happen without government intervention.
A message from John Todd: “This Wednesday (June 8th) at 2:00 pm there will be a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Planeview Save-A-Lot grocery store located on the southeast corner of George Washington Boulevard and Pawnee. This project was initially proposed with $900,000 in CID and TIF public subsidies for the developer that were approved by the Wichita City Council last fall. When the Sedgwick County Commission rejected giving the county’s portion of the TIF generated real estate taxes to the developer and away from the public treasury, the project appeared to be dead. The Wichita Eagle recently reported that the Save-A-Lot grocery store owner has now decided to develop the project on his own with his own financing. Perhaps it is appropriate for those citizens who appreciate businesses who develop market-driven projects in Wichita and Sedgwick County on their own nickel to show their appreciation to the grocery store owner/developer by attending the groundbreaking ceremony and personally thanking him.”