Tag Archives: Tax increment financing

From Pachyderm: Economic development incentives

A look at some of the large economic development programs in Wichita and Kansas.

Here’s video of a presentation I gave at the Wichita Pachyderm Club this week on economic development incentives. The video was produced by Paul Soutar of Graphic Lens. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Following, articles that address some of the topics I presented:

  • Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas: Industrial Revenue Bonds are a mechanism that Kansas cities and counties use to allow companies to avoid paying property and sales taxes.
  • Wichita TIF projects: some background: Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth.
  • Community improvement districts in Kansas: In Kansas Community Improvement Districts, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public.
  • STAR bonds in Kansas: The Kansas STAR bonds program provides a mechanism for spending by autopilot, without specific appropriation by the legislature.
  • PEAK, or Promoting Employment Across Kansas: PEAK, a Kansas economic development incentive program, redirects employee income taxes back to the employing company.
  • Historic preservation tax credits, or developer welfare: A Wichita developer seeks to have taxpayers fund a large portion of his development costs, using a wasteful government program of dubious value.

More TIF spending in Wichita

The Wichita City Council will consider approval of a redevelopment plan in a tax increment financing (TIF) district.

This week the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing considering approval of more tax increment financing (TIF) spending in downtown Wichita. The spending is for the second phase of redevelopment of the Union Station property on East Douglas. According to city documents, the total cost of this phase is $31,000,000, with TIF paying for $2,954,734. 1

This is a pay-as-you-go form of TIF, which means the city does not borrow funds as it would in a traditional TIF district. Instead, the eligible portion of the developer’s property taxes will be rerouted back to the development as they are paid.

The TIF district was established in 2014. The council this week considers a redevelopment plan, which authorizes spending TIF funds on a specific project. Redevelopment plans must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the council. While overlapping jurisdictions like counties and school districts can block the formation of a TIF district, they have no such role in the approval of a redevelopment plan.

Of note, this public hearing is being held after the fact, sort of. City documents state: “A development agreement was approved by the City Council on August 7, to allow for the developer to begin non-TIF eligible improvements in order to meet deadlines for a new tenant.” The city documents for the August 7 meeting hold this: 2

The Developer has requested that the development agreement be approved now, prior to adoption of the project plan, to allow work to begin on the Meade Corridor improvements in order to complete the project in time for the tenant to move in. The Development agreement is drafted to allow for the Meade Corridor improvements to occur following adoption of the agreement, however, any work or reimbursement for TIF is contingent on City Council adoption of the project plan following the September 11 public hearing.

Citizens have to wonder will the September 11 public hearing have any meaning or relevance, given that on August 7 the city gave its de facto approval of the redevelopment plan.

Following, more information about tax increment financing.

Tax increment financing disrupts the usual flow of tax dollars, routing funds away from cash-strapped cities, counties, and schools back to the TIF-financed development. TIF creates distortions in the way cities develop, and researchers find that the use of TIF means lower economic growth.

How TIF works

A TIF district is a geographically-defined area.

In Kansas, TIF takes two or more steps. The first step is that cities or counties establish the boundaries of the TIF district. After the TIF district is defined, cities then must approve one or more project plans that authorize the spending of TIF funds in specific ways. (The project plan is also called a redevelopment plan.) In Kansas, overlapping counties and school districts have an opportunity to veto the formation of the TIF district, but this rarely happens. Once the district is formed, cities and counties have no ability to object to TIF project plans.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Before the formation of the TIF district, the property pays taxes to the city, county, school district, and state as can be seen in figure 1. Because property considered for TIF is purportedly blighted, the amount of tax paid is usually small. Whatever it is, that level is called the “base.”

Figure 2.
Figure 2.
After approval of one or more TIF project plans the city borrows money and gives it to the project or development. The city now has additional debt in the form of TIF bonds that require annual payments. Figure 2 illustrates. (There is now another form of TIF known as “pay-as-you-go” that works differently, but produces much the same economic effect.)

Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Figure 3 shows the flow of tax revenue after the formation of the TIF district and after the completion of a project. Because buildings were built or renovated, the property is worth more, and the property tax is now higher. The development now has two streams of property tax payments that are handled in different ways. The original tax — the “base” — is handled just like before, distributed to city, state, school district, and the state, according to their mill levy rates. The difference between the new tax and the base tax — the “increment” — is handled differently. It goes to only two destinations (mostly): The State of Kansas, and repayment of the TIF bonds.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.
Figure 4 highlights the difference in the flow of tax revenues. The top portion of the illustration shows development outside of TIF. We see the flows of tax payments to city, county, school district, and the state. In the bottom portion, which shows development under TIF, the tax flows to city, county, and school district are missing. No longer does a property contribute to the support of these three units of government, although the property undoubtedly requires the services of them. This is especially true for a property in Old Town, which consumes large amounts of policing.

(Cities, counties, and school districts still receive the base tax payments, but these are usually small, much smaller than the incremental taxes. In non-TIF development, these agencies still receive the base taxes too, plus whatever taxes result from improvement of the property — the “increment,” so to speak. Or simply, all taxes.)

The Kansas law governing TIF, or redevelopment districts as they are also called, starts at K.S.A. 12-1770.

TIF and public policy

Originally most states included a “but for” test that TIF districts must meet. That is, the proposed development could not happen but for the benefits of TIF. Many states have dropped this requirement. At any rate, developers can always present proposals that show financial necessity for subsidy, and gullible government officials will believe.

Similarly, TIF was originally promoted as a way to cure blight. But cities are so creative and expansive in their interpretation of blight that this requirement, if it still exists, has little meaning.

The rerouting of property taxes under TIF goes against the grain of the way taxes are usually rationalized. We use taxation as a way to pay for services that everyone benefits from, and from which we can’t exclude people. An example would be police protection. Everyone benefits from being safe, and we can’t exclude people from benefiting from police protection.

So when we pay property tax — or any tax, for that matter — people may be comforted knowing that it goes towards police and fire protection, street lights, schools, and the like. (Of course, some is wasted, and government is not the only way these services, especially education, could be provided.)

But TIF is contrary to this justification of taxes. TIF allows property taxes to be used for one person’s (or group of persons) exclusive benefit. This violates the principle of broad-based taxation to pay for an array of services for everyone. Remember: What was the purpose of the TIF bonds? To pay for things that benefited the development. Now, the development’s property taxes are being used to repay those bonds instead of funding government.

One more thing: Defenders of TIF will say that the developers will pay all their property taxes. This is true, but only on a superficial level. We now see that the lion’s share of the property taxes paid by TIF developers are routed back to them for their own benefit.

It’s only infrastructure

In their justification of TIF in general, or specific projects, proponents may say that TIF dollars are spent only on allowable purposes. Usually a prominent portion of TIF dollars are spent on infrastructure. This allows TIF proponents to say the money isn’t really being spent for the benefit of a specific project. It’s spent on infrastructure, they say, which they contend is something that benefits everyone, not one project specifically. Therefore, everyone ought to pay.

This attitude is represented by a comment left at Voice for Liberty, which contended: “The thing is that real estate developers do not invest in public streets, sidewalks and lamp posts, because there would be no incentive to do so. Why spend millions of dollars redoing or constructing public streets when you can not get a return on investment for that”

This perception is common: that when we see developers building something, the City of Wichita builds the supporting infrastructure at no cost to the developers. But it isn’t quite so. About a decade ago a project was being developed on the east side of Wichita, the Waterfront. This project was built on vacant land. Here’s what I found when I searched for City of Wichita resolutions concerning this project:

Figure 5. Waterfront resolutions.
Figure 5. Waterfront resolutions.
Note specifically one item: $1,672,000 for the construction of Waterfront Parkway. To anyone driving or walking in this area, they would think this is just another city street — although a very nicely designed and landscaped street. But the city did not pay for this street. Private developers paid for this infrastructure. Other resolutions resulted in the same developers paying for street lights, traffic signals, sewers, water pipes, and turning lanes on major city streets. All this is infrastructure that we’re told real estate developers will not pay for. But in order to build the Waterfront development, private developers did, with a total cost of these projects being $3,334,500. (It’s likely I did not find all the resolutions and costs pertaining to this project, and more development has happened since this research.)

In a TIF district, these things are called “infrastructure” and will be paid for by the development’s own property taxes — taxes that must be paid in any case. Outside of TIF districts, developers pay for these things themselves.

If not for TIF, nothing will happen here

Generally, TIF is justified using the “but-for” argument. That is, nothing will happen within a district unless the subsidy of TIF is used. Paul F. Byrne explains:

“The but-for provision refers to the statutory requirement that an incentive cannot be awarded unless the supported economic activity would not occur but for the incentive being offered. This provision has economic importance because if a firm would locate in a particular jurisdiction with or without receiving the economic incentive, then the economic impact of offering the incentive is non-existent. … The but-for provision represents the legislature’s attempt at preventing a local jurisdiction from awarding more than the minimum incentive necessary to induce a firm to locate within the jurisdiction. However, while a firm receiving the incentive is well aware of the minimum incentive necessary, the municipality is not.”

It’s often thought that when a but-for justification is required in order to receive an economic development incentive, financial figures can be produced that show such need. Now, recent research shows that the but-for justification is problematic. In Does Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Programme Pass the ‘But-for’ Test? Job Creation and Economic Development Impacts Using Time-series Data, author T. William Lester looked at block-level data regarding employment growth and private real estate development. The abstract of the paper describes:

“This paper conducts a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of Chicago’s TIF program in creating economic opportunities and catalyzing real estate investments at the neighborhood scale. This paper uses a unique panel dataset at the block group level to analyze the impact of TIF designation and investments on employment change, business creation, and building permit activity. After controlling for potential selection bias in TIF assignment, this paper shows that TIF ultimately fails the ‘but-for’ test and shows no evidence of increasing tangible economic development benefits for local residents.” (emphasis added)

In the paper, the author clarifies:

“To clarify these findings, this analysis does not indicate that no building activity or job crea-tion occurred in TIFed block groups, or resulted from TIF projects. Rather, the level of these activities was no faster than similar areas of the city which did not receive TIF assistance. It is in this aspect of the research design that we are able to conclude that the development seen in and around Chicago’s TIF districts would have likely occurred without the TIF subsidy. In other words, on the whole, Chicago’s TIF program fails the ‘but-for’ test.

Later on, for emphasis:

“While the findings of this paper are clear and decisive, it is important to comment here on their exact extent and external validity, and to discuss the limitations of this analysis. First, the findings do not indicate that overall employment growth in the City of Chicago was negative or flat during this period. Nor does this research design enable us to claim that any given TIF-funded project did not end up creating jobs. Rather, we conclude that on-average, across the whole city, TIF was unsuccessful in jumpstarting economic development activity — relative to what would have likely occurred otherwise.” (emphasis in original)

The author notes that these conclusions are specific to Chicago’s use of TIF, but should “should serve as a cautionary tale.”

The paper reinforces the problem of using tax revenue for private purposes, rather than for public benefit: “Essentially, Chicago’s extensive use of TIF can be interpreted as the siphoning off of public revenue for largely private-sector purposes. Although, TIF proponents argue that the public receives enhanced economic opportunity in the bargain, the findings of this paper show that the bargain is in fact no bargain at all.”

TIF is social engineering

TIF represents social engineering. By using it, city government has decided that it knows best where development should be directed. In particular, the Wichita city council has decided that Old Town and downtown development is on a superior moral plane to other development. Therefore, we all have to pay higher taxes to support this development. What is the basis for saying Old Town developers don’t have to pay for their infrastructure, but developers in other parts of the city must pay?

TIF doesn’t work

Does TIF work? It depends on what the meaning of “work” is.

If by working, do we mean does TIF induce development? If so, then TIF usually works. When the city authorizes a TIF project plan, something usually gets built or renovated. But this definition of “works” must be tempered by a few considerations.

Does TIF pay for itself?
First, is the project self-sustaining? That is, is the incremental property tax revenue sufficient to repay the TIF bonds? This has not been the case with all TIF projects in Wichita. The city has had to bail out two TIFs, one with a no-interest and low-interest loan that cost city taxpayers an estimated $1.2 million.

The verge of corruption
Second, does the use of TIF promote a civil society, or does it lead to cronyism? Randal O’Toole has written:

“TIF puts city officials on the verge of corruption, favoring some developers and property owners over others. TIF creates what economists call a moral hazard for developers. If you are a developer and your competitors are getting subsidies, you may simply fold your hands and wait until someone offers you a subsidy before you make any investments in new development. In many cities, TIF is a major source of government corruption, as city leaders hand tax dollars over to developers who then make campaign contributions to re-elect those leaders.”

We see this in Wichita, where the regular recipients of TIF benefits are also regular contributors to the political campaigns of those who are in a position to give them benefits. The corruption is not illegal, but it is real and harmful, and calls out for reform. See In Wichita, the need for campaign finance reform.

The effect of TIF on everyone
Third, what about the effect of TIF on everyone, that is, the entire city or region? Economists have studied this matter, and have concluded that in most cases, the effect is negative.

An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

“TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.”

So TIF districts are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

“If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.” (emphasis added)

In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.” (emphasis added)

The Wichita city council is concerned about creating jobs, and is easily swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will create jobs. Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University has examined the effect of TIF on jobs. His recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

“This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.” (emphasis added)

These studies and others show that as a strategy for increasing the overall wellbeing of a city, TIF fails to deliver prosperity, and in fact, causes harm.


Notes

  1. Wichita city council agenda packet for September 11, 2018.
  2. Wichita city council agenda packet for August 7, 2018.

Naftzger Park private use plans unsettled

An important detail regarding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is unsettled, and Wichitans have reason to be wary.

In the developer agreement regarding Naftzger Park passed on December 19, 2017, there was this: “The City and the Board will cooperate with Developers, upon Developers’ request, to create an Annual Master Calendar of private and public events for the Park, with the expectation that the Developers will have the use of the Park for certain private events.” 1 (In this agreement, “Board” refers to the Board of Park Commissioners of the City of Wichita, Kansas.)

Recently I asked the city if this master calendar had been created, or if there was a framework for determining how many private events can be held. According to the city, decisions are ongoing, and “According to Park & Recreation officials, what can be shared now is that the City will create and maintain a master calendar of events and programming. The developer will share in the programming responsibility and host several events throughout the year. Collaborating will ensure that the park is programmed well and active.”

Wichitans should not take comfort in learning this. We can easily imagine where the developer will want to have private events often, especially if homeless people continue using the park as a gathering spot, as is their right. “TGIF kickoff, tonight at Naftzger Park! Drinks and hot hors d’oeuvre! $15 to enter, free to residents of Lofts at Spaghetti Works and partners at Martin Pringle.”

Could this happen? How often could this happen? These are open questions, and we’re being asked to trust that city bureaucrats will negotiate a good deal for the entire city.

A panoramic view of Naftzger Park at winter’s end. Click for larger.

We shouldn’t trust the city to get a good deal for the average Wichitan. Even if the city strikes a deal that looks good, we should not trust the city to enforce the deal. Here’s an example to illustrate why.

In 2012 the city negotiated a deal with a private developer regarding an apartment development. As part of the deal, the city negotiated a provision that requires the apartment developer to pay “Additional Annual Rent” if certain conditions were met. To the casual observer, that might seem like a magnanimous gesture by the apartment developer. It made it look like the city was been a tough negotiator, hammering out a good deal for the city, letting citizens profit along with the apartment developer.

But the list of costs the developer could deduct before determining “additional annual rent” was broad, including the ability to contribute to reserve funds that would be owned by the developer. At the time, I observed, “We can be sure that if this project was ever in the position where it looked like it might have to remit ‘Additional Annual Rent’ to the city, contributions to these reserve funds would rise. Then, no funds paid to the city.” 2

As it turns out, the city did not enforce this agreement. It didn’t even ask for the information needed. Last year I became aware that the city did not ask for, and the developers did not produce, annual reports. 3

So might it happen that the private developments adjacent to Naftzger Park treat the park as their own? Recall that these developers have taken advantage of nearly every available program to fund their private developments. 4 Included in the list of benefits is a new benefit the city has offered only once before, to my knowledge: The city is paying the developer for parking spaces, on the theory they will be available to the public when the development does not need them.

Many of these benefits to the developer appeared only after the Wichita city manager said the development would not proceed, as the Wichita Eagle reported: “Plans to tear up and rebuild Naftzger Park downtown have been shelved indefinitely, after developers who own neighboring property pulled out of working with the city, Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said Friday [November 17, 2017].” 5 Somehow the deal was quickly revived, with even more taxpayer-funded benefits to the developer.

Should Wichitans trust the city to negotiate a good deal, and if it does, to enforce it? In my experience, the answer is no.


Notes

  1. DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENT between the CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, BOARD OF PARK COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF WICHITA, KANSAS, SENECA PROPERTY, LLC, and SUNFLOWER WICHITA, LLC Dated as of January 19, 2018. Section 3.12. In the agenda packet for the December 19, 2017 Wichita city council meeting.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk apartment deal not good for citizens. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-apartment-deal-not-good-for-citizens/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-contract-not-followed/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park project details. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-project-details/.
  5. Lefler, Dion. Naftzger Park won’t be torn down, rebuilt after Spaghetti Works developer pulls out. Wichita Eagle, november 17, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article185304103.html.

Naftzger Park project details

The city has finalized a proposal for a development near Naftzger Park. It includes a few new and creative provisions.

This week the City of Wichita will consider a development agreement for land and buildings near Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. 1

Community Improvement District

The plan includes the formation of a Community Improvement District. In CIDs, merchants charge additional sales tax for the benefit of the property owners, instead of the general public.2 In this CID, the proposed additional sales tax is two cents per dollar, the maximum available under state law, and could generate up to $3.1 million over a period as long as 22 years.3

This proposed CID contains a “sweetener,” likely designed to reduce public opposition. Ten percent of the CID revenue would be used to maintain Naftzger Park. We’ve seen this before, as in the Cabela’s CID where some of the funds paid for road improvements near the store.4

The action the city council will consider this week is whether to accept the petitions to form the CID and set January 9, 2018 as the date for the public hearing.

Industrial Revenue Bonds and tax forgiveness

This project is also requesting Industrial Revenue Bonds. under this program, the city will not be lending money, nor will it be responsible for repaying any loans. Instead, the program allows the developers to avoid paying sales tax on construction.5 City documents don’t give an amount of tax savings, but it could be over one million dollars. 6

City documents state that a property tax abatement is not being requested. That isn’t available for this project, as its property taxes are already allocated by TIF.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

The project has already been approved for of Tax Increment Financing. In this case, future property tax revenues from this project will be rerouted from their normal flow to reconstruct Naftzger Park, something that is seen as a large benefit to the developers.

Construction administration fee

The city will pay the developers up to $250,000 for construction administration of the park.

Parking

This agreement also contains something I’m sure is considered as creative. We also saw this as an incentive offered to Cargill earlier this year. In this case, the city will pay the developers a fee for using their parking spaces. In this case, the city proposes paying a one-time easement fee of $10,000 per spot for from 80 to 90 parking spots. The total payment would be from $800,000 to $900,000. These parking spots would be available to the public outside of business hours, which are defined as 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Private events

Buried with the development agreement is a provision that the developers may use the park for private events: “The City and the Board will cooperate with Developers, upon Developers’ request, to create an Annual Master Calendar of private and public events for the Park, with the expectation that the Developers will have the use of the Park for certain private events.”

Little else is mentioned regarding these private events, such as the maximum number of private events. This seems subject to abuse.

Other Naftzger Park material

  1. City of Wichita Agenda Packet for December 19, 2017, Item IV-6.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Community improvement districts in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/community-improvement-districts-kansas/.
  3. Council Agenda: “The Developer and Park Board control the land within the proposed CID. The requested CID would provide pay-as-you-go financing for qualified project costs through the imposition of a 2% special retail sales tax on all taxable retail sales within the district for a maximum of 22 years. The eligible project costs identified in the CID petition include costs of renovating the building at 691 E. William and construction of the Class A commercial building. The City will receive 10% of the CID revenue to fund Naftzger Park maintenance and or ROW repairs and improvements, in addition to the 5% administrative fee. The revenue is estimated to be $310,000. The maximum amount of project costs that can be reimbursed is $3,118,504 based on the projected revenue of the project, exclusive of the City’s administrative fee and Naftzger Park maintenance.”
  4. Weeks, Bob. Cabela’s CID should not be approved in Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/cabelas-cid-should-not-be-approved-in-wichita/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  6. “The Developer is also requesting the issuance of a letter of intent to issue Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs), valid through December 31, 2022, in an amount not-to-exceed $26,000,000 to achieve a sales tax exemption on items purchased for the redevelopment project. No property tax abatement is being requested.”

Delano catalyst site

A development near downtown Wichita may receive subsidy through four different avenues.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider approval of a development agreement with EPC Real Estate, LLC, for the Delano catalyst site. This is vacant land north of Douglas, between the Advanced Learning Library and the River Vista project.

Update: The measure passed four votes to three, with Bluebaugh, Frye, and Longwell in the minority.

Wichita Eagle reporting mentions some of the public subsidy the development will receive: $12 million over a period of years, in the form of Tax Increment Financing and Community Improvement District sales tax. (Delano project looks to add 180 apartments, hotel next to new Wichita library)

One form of additional subsidy is forgiveness of sales tax on the construction of buildings. The Letter of Intent for Industrial Revenue Bonds the council will consider states: “The City’s governing body has authorized an application for sales tax exemption with an estimated value of $1,611,822.”

But a really big gift to the developers is the price of the land. City document state the selling price for the 7.2 acre plot is $750,000. That’s about ($750000 / 7.2 acres) = $104,167 per acre. It’s a pretty good deal for the buyers. A look at some current commercial land listings in Wichita finds these:

1.20 acres at 47th South and Seneca for $425,000, or $354,167 per acre.
0.50 acres at 140 N. West St. for $225,000, or $450,000 per acre.
20.00 acres at 1462 S. Maize Road “Great for entertainment, retail, etc.” for $4,251,456, or $212,573 per acre.
0.52 acres at 640 N. Webb Road for $368,570, or $708,788 per acre.

It’s clear that the developers are buying the land from the city for a small fraction of its value.

By the way: Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell says the city will no longer offer cash incentives for economic development. But selling land a deeply discounted price: Is that different from a cash incentive?

We might also note that this project will receive millions in benefits from Tax Increment Financing. This was a program born out of a perceived need to help redevelop blighted property. This development site, however, is vacant land.

Finally: If downtown Wichita is really progressing as well as its boosters say, why is it necessary to offer so much subsidy to develop a project like this?

In Wichita, not your tax dollars

At a Wichita City Council meeting, citizens are told, “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars.”

At the meeting of the Wichita City Council this week, Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) lectured the audience, saying: “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars.”

The matter under consideration was a redevelopment plan for Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Approval was necessary if tax increment financing (TIF) funds could be spent on the park. 1 TIF is a mechanism whereby future tax revenues are redirected towards a specific purpose, usually to the benefit of a private property owner. 2

The “plan” under consideration was solely the financing plan. No actual design for a future Naftzger Park was considered or selected.

At the council meeting — and at many other meetings and online discussions — people have noted that the city is planning to spend money on the redesign of Naftzger Park while at the same time there are, according to them, unmet needs throughout the city: Closing swimming pools, assistance for homeless, inadequate staffing of the police department, etc. Why, they ask, can’t the Naftzger Park money be used to solve these problems?

The admonishment of Williams — “These tax dollars are not your tax dollars” — was directed at this criticism. She is correct: The mechanism of TIF allows for these dollars to be spent on just one thing, and that is the redesign of Naftzger Park. 3

So in one way, they aren’t our tax dollars. They are being spent in the way that TGC Development Group, the owner of adjacent property, wants them spent. 4

But this upends the rationale and justification for taxation.

In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.

Within a TIF district, however, the new property tax dollars — the increment — do not go to the city, county, and school district to pay for services. Instead, these dollars are used in ways that benefit private parties.

Yet, the new development will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But its incremental property taxes do not pay for these, as they have been diverted elsewhere. (The base property taxes still go to pay for these services, but the base is usually low.) Instead, others must pay the cost of providing services to the TIF development, or accept reduced levels of service as existing service providers are saddled with increasing demand.

Supporters of TIF argue that TIF developers aren’t getting a free ride. The city isn’t giving them cash, they say. The owners of the TIF development will be paying their full share of higher property taxes in the future. All this is true. But, these future tax dollars are spent for their benefit, not to pay for the cost of government.

In the case of Naftzger Park, the situation is murkier. Usually TIF funds are spent on things that directly benefit the private development, things like property acquisition, site preparation, utilities, and drainage. In this case, the TIF funds are being spent to redesign a public park — and a park that many people like.

But it’s clear that the present state of Naftzger Park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. Now that the park redesign will be financed with TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.

Contrary to Council Member Williams and the others who voted in favor of the TIF redevelopment plan: These are our tax dollars. Redirecting them for private benefit has a cost. A real cost that others must pay. If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park tax increment financing (TIF). Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-tax-increment-financing-tif/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  3. The Center City South TIF district is an unusual case in that only 70 percent of the incremental taxes are redirected.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park contract: Who is in control? Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-wichita-contract-who-controls/.

Redesigned Naftzger Park likely not only subsidy

The developers of property near Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita will possibly receive millions in other subsidy.

The powerful impetus to redevelop Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is attributed to two sources: The NCAA basketball games in March and the desire of TGC Development Group to develop property it owns near the park.

How much motivation comes from which source depends on who you ask. But it’s clear that the present state of the park is a problem for TGC. A newly redesigned park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for TGC’s projects, and will greatly benefit that company. If the park redesign is paid for with tax increment financing, or TIF, this new park comes at no cost to TGC.

But this is likely not the only benefit TGC will receive from taxpayers. The building TGC owns near Naftzger Park is commonly known as the “Spaghetti Works” building. Before that it was known as the Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company. Under that name, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 1 Then, in 2016 conditional approval was given for federal historic preservation tax credits. 2

These federal tax credits are worth 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating historic structures. 3 These credits may be used dollar-for-dollar when paying federal income taxes, or they may be sold for cash, usually at a discount, and someone else uses them — instead of cash — to pay taxes they owe.

Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company faded sign. Click for larger.
So when TGC spends, say, $1,000,000 on the building, it will receive — conceptually — a slip of paper valued at $200,000. It may use this instead of cash to pay its taxes, or it may sell it to someone else.

That’s not all. Although there is no application at this time, it’s likely that TGC will also apply for Kansas tax credits. These are like the federal credits, except they are for 25 percent of the rehabilitation costs. 4

Together these tax credits can pay up to 45 percent of the costs of rehabbing this building.

These tax credits have a real cost. As long as state or federal government does not reduce spending by the amount of these credits, and specifically because of these credits, other taxpayers have to pay.

Additionally, these tax credits are inefficient. When Kansas Legislative Post Audit looked at Kansas tax credits, it found that when sold, the state receives 85 cents of project value for each dollar foregone. 5

There are many reasons why historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. 6 7 But for now, it’s important to know that a redesigned Naftzger Park is not the only economic subsidy the nearby private property owners are likely to receive.


Notes

  1. National Park Service, National Register Digital Assets. Available at https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/NRIS/83000440.
  2. Wichita Wholesale Grocery Company search at National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services. Captured August 14, 2017. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MN292dHVZZ2NLcWs/.
  3. National Park Service, Technical Preservation Services. Tax Incentives for Preserving Historic Properties. Available at https://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives.htm.
  4. Kansas Historical Society. State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. available at http://www.kshs.org/p/state-historic-rehabilitation-tax-credit/14666.
  5. “The Historic Preservation Tax Credit isn’t cost-effective. That credit works differently than the other three because the amount of money a historic preservation project receives from the credit is dependent upon the amount of money it’s sold for. Our review showed that, on average, when Historic Preservation Credits were transferred to generate money for a project, they only generated 85 cents for the project for every dollar of potential tax revenue the State gave up.” Kansas Legislative Post Audit. Kansas Tax Revenues, Part I: Reviewing Tax Credits. Available at http://www.kslpa.org/assets/files/reports/10pa03-1a.pdf.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Kansas historic preservation tax credits should be eliminated. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-historic-preservation-tax-credits-should-be-eliminated/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Kansas historic preservation tax credits should not be expanded. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/kansas-historic-preservation-tax-credits-should-not-be-expanded/.

Naftzger Park land ownership

One of the issues surrounding Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is land ownership.

Naftzger Park land ownership from Sedgwick County Online Map Portal. Click for larger.
Information from the Sedgwick County Online Map Portal shows land parcels and ownership. The nearby illustration shows Naftzger Park and its environs. (I don’t think it’s possible for me to save a link that brings you directly to the map as I’ve shown it.) On this map, the two parcels owned by private owners are outlined in orange. The City of Wichita or the Board of Park Commissioners own the other parcels north of William Street.

We can see that the park is built partially on land owned by private owners. City officials have said that a narrow strip of land on the east side of the park is involved. From this map we can see that the situation is more complex.

It would be interesting to learn how this mistake — if that’s what it is — occurred. At one time the city owned the entire block after it acquired land to reform what was skid row.

Naftzger Park public hearing

On Tuesday August 15 the Wichita City Council will hold a public hearing to consider authorizing spending TIF funds on Naftzger Park.

This week the Wichita City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a new redevelopment project plan for a tax increment financing (TIF) district in downtown Wichita. The redevelopment project plan contemplates transforming Naftzger Park. The hearing is part of the regular council meeting at 9:00 am Tuesday August 15 at city hall.

While the city has held four public meetings on the topic of Naftzger Park redesign, these meetings were not legally required. But the Tuesday public hearing is required, as city documents explain: “In order to establish the legal authority to use tax increment financing the City Council must adopt a redevelopment project plan for a project area, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project, how tax increment financing would be used and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with tax increment financing.” 1

As for providing “more detailed information on the proposed project,” the redevelopment project plan supplied by the city is quite generic. This week the project architect presented four plans at public meetings. But these drawings cannot be found online — not on the city’s website, its Facebook page, or the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation — except for unclear photographs.

The redevelopment project plan describes how to pay for the redesign of Naftzger Park: “Improvements on the adjacent site are anticipated to generate the revenue necessary to fund the improvements to Naftzger.” This is the mechanism of tax increment financing: Future property taxes are redirected from their normal course and funneled back to benefit the development. The city correctly notes that the TIF funds are being used to develop a public park, not a private development. But the private property owner obviously considers the present park a problem. A new park will effectively serve as the “front yard” for new development and will be of great benefit to the owner. And, many people are opposed to changing the park.

From the redevelopment project plan: “The City will provide public funding, including tax increment financing and general obligation bond financing to finance the project costs.” 2 That is, there is additional spending contemplated.

“Tax increment funds may also be used to pay for eligible improvements financed through general obligation bonds and to reimburse additional eligible project costs when additional tax increment revenues are available.” 3 Here, the redevelopment project plan hints at more property tax being redirected to the development.

“It is assumed that Project construction will begin in 2018 and be completed before the end of 2023, and therefore achieve full valuation by January 1, 2024. It is estimated that in 2024 the property tax increment will be $163,970.” 4 These projections are highly speculative. The city’s record in projecting future development in current TIF districts is spotty. See WaterWalk, Ken-Mar, etc.

“Park improvements are projected to costs approximately $3,000,000, with $1,500,000 of such costs to be financed from proceeds of the City’s full faith and credit tax increment bonds (the “Bonds”).” 5 Here the redevelopment project plan reminds readers that if future property taxes are insufficient to pay the bonds, the city itself is liable. The city exacts an agreement from TIF developers that if TIF revenue is insufficient that the developers will pay the difference, but the city’s record in enforcing these agreements is spotty. 6

“Incremental tax revenue available after the payment of such Bonds may be used to pay for additional TIF-eligible Project costs related to Park improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis or reimburse the debt service on City general obligation bonds issued to finance a portion of the cost of the Park improvements, if any.” 4 Again, the redevelopment project plan hints that future park spending may be paid for with TIF.

The table titled “Projected Tax Increment Report” is subtitled with the name of a different project. This is probably an error without much consequence, as someone in the city probably reused a spreadsheet from a similar project and forgot to revise the title. The same error appears in a second table of figures titled “Projected Bond Cash Flow Report.” Except: The city made this same error in previous versions of this document, as I reported earlier. 8 We’re left to wonder whether anyone — at city hall, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, or the private developers who will benefit from this spending — care to correct errors like this.

The first table projects the assessed value — and by implication, also the appraised or market value — of property through the year 2036. These projections are highly speculative.

Excerpt from city documents. Click for larger.

In a section titled “Description of Naftzger Park Project” we see an item titled “TIF Pay-as-you-go Costs” with the amount given as $1,500,000. This spending was mentioned in earlier city documents, but hasn’t received much public discussion. The $1.5 million figure that is in the news is from “regular” TIF financing. In that case, the city borrows money, and the debt is repaid from future property taxes. With the pay-as-you-go TIF, the city simply spends future property taxes in the project. 9 The difference is that in regular TIF, the city is liable for the debt if future incremental taxes are insufficient to cover bond payments. In pay-as-you-go TIF, there is no debt, only redirection of property taxes from their normal distribution.

For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council Agenda Packet for August 15, 2017. Item IV-2. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Council/Agendas/08-15-2017%20City%20Council%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf.
  2. City of Wichita. Comprehensive Financing Feasibility Study for the Naftzger Park Project within the Center City South Redevelopment District City of Wichita, Kansas. Available in the August 15 agenda packet.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. See, for example, Weeks, Bob. Ken-Mar TIF district, the bailouts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/ken-mar-tif-district-the-bailouts/. Also
  7. Ibid.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Naftzger Park public hearing to be considered. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-public-hearing-to-be-considered/.
  9. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Naftzger Park

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita Assistant City Manager and Director of Development Scot Rigby joins hosts Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss the plans for Naftzger Park. Then, Bob and Karl continue the discussion. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 161, broadcast August 13, 2017.

Shownotes

Naftzger Park construction manager

The City of Wichita seeks a construction manager for the construction of Naftzger Park.

The request for qualification is titled “CONSTRUCTION MANAGER AT RISK to Construct Naftzger Park.” On the city’s purchasing website the relevant information is contained in five separate documents. I’ve gathered them together in one document, which you may access here.

The city may be getting ahead of itself. The RFQ sets the deadline for submissions as 2:00 pm Tuesday August 15. That morning is when the Wichita City Council will consider approval of the redevelopment project plan. 1 Until that plan is approved by a two-thirds majority of the council, there exists no authorization to spend funds from a tax increment financing district. 2

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Referring to the planning process for downtown Wichita in 2008 and 2009, the document says, “Since that time downtown Wichita has experienced record growth.” This statement isn’t true. Since that time there are fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In all cases, the trend is lower. 3 There is growth in people living downtown.

Something new appears in this paragraph: “Design and construction are planned to be implemented in phasing to accommodate budget, with the first phase budget of $1,500,000 for design, project administration and construction. The first phase budget will provide for an open and usable park that accommodates as many programming features as budget allows. In addition to the $1,500,000 for phase one, there will also be approximately $500,000 worth of cross site work, demolition, and infrastructure to be completed on the adjacent property.”

The document doesn’t specify the source of the $500,000, and this is the first mention of that sum, as far as I know. But the fact that management of it is included in this RFQ is more evidence that the redesign of Naftzger Park is really a project being done for the benefit of the nearby private landowner.

Later, more evidence of the park’s importance to, and benefit of, one company: “Because of the adjacent location and utilization of the park as it relates to the Spaghetti Works Development, it is necessary that TGC’s team play an integrated role; so that the flow and function developed in the park work seamlessly together with the TGC project.”

Just to emphasize, the proposals are not sent to city hall but to the private company that will benefit from the park redesign: “Sealed Request for Proposal will be received in the office of the TGC Development Group, 125 N Emporia, Suite 202, Wichita, KS 67202, Attn: Blake Heiman.”

A possible plan for Naftzger Park from the City of Wichita
And who will make the decision? An addendum to the RPQ holds: “A Selection Committee consisting of staff from various City department and TGC will evaluate submissions.”

The city has provided an illustration of what a potential redesign might look like. There has been much criticism — including by city council members — especially for the covering of the park with artificial turf. But, the RFQ states: “A summary of programmatic elements will include a flexible use lawn area (with potential of artificial turf).”

For more about Naftzger Park, see these articles and other information from Voice for Liberty:


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Upcoming Naftzger Park legislative action. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/upcoming-naftzger-park-legislative-action/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Background on tax increment financing (TIF) as applied to Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/naftzger-park-tax-increment-financing-tif/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.

Naftzger Park tax increment financing (TIF)

Background on tax increment financing (TIF) as applied to Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita.

The City of Wichita has proposed using tax increment financing (TIF) revenue to redevelop Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita. Various city officials have said something along these lines: There is a pot of money — 1.5 million dollars — available for use on Naftzger Park, and this money can’t be used for any other purpose. Also, it’s implied that if this money is not used on Naftzger Park, this money will not be available for any purpose, almost as though the money will be wasted.

The source of the money is tax increment financing (TIF). This is a method of public finance whereby future property tax revenues are redirected from their normal flow to something else. The amount of taxes that are paid at the time of the formation of the TIF district is called the base, which is a function of the district’s original assessed value. The plan is that as new property is built or existing property renovated in the TIF district, there is more assessed value, and more taxes are levied and collected. The amount of taxes paid each year above the base is called the increment. It is these incremental taxes that are captured and rerouted. Because TIF is usually applied to blighted areas and the property is not highly valued, the base is usually low. In successful TIF projects, the increment can be very large. 1

To where are the incremental taxes redirected? Generally, to the benefit of property owners in the TIF district. 2 While there are restrictions on how TIF dollars may be spent, I don’t think any developers within TIF districts have not been able to take full advantage of the TIF dollars that are available, although Naftgzer Park is a special case (see below).

Advocates of TIF make it sound as though it is free money. They often say that if the proposed project does not receive TIF financing, it can’t be built. This is the “but for” justification: But for the benefit of TIF, nothing will happen. Without TIF there will be no development, and no future incremental taxes will be collected.

There are several issues with this line of thinking. First, the but for rationale is subject to abuse. Developers who want to use TIF have a large monetary incentive to make it appear as though their projects are not financially viable without TIF. That’s the meaning of but for. To make their case for TIF, developers supply financial projections to cities, and the city usually accepts them at face value. These financial projections rely on many assumptions about the future, often 20 or more years in the future. For example, what will be the occupancy rate and average room rate for a proposed hotel in 15 years? Forecasting these values for next year is difficult enough. Yet, it is projections like these that form the basis of the necessity of TIF.

City officials do not have the expertise to evaluate these financial projections. If citizens want to see these projections, the City of Wichita will not supply them, in most cases.

Second: The pleas for TIF made by developers are sometimes plainly false. In Wichita, a developer wanted to build a grocery store using TIF and other incentives. He told the city he has “researched every possible way” to make the project work, and it would not work without TIF. 3 A representative of the developer told the city council, “There will not be a building on that corner if this [TIF] 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.”

The city’s chief economic development official told the council, “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.” 4

While the city approved TIF, the county did not. So TIF was not available, and the developer abandoned the project. But: A different developer built the same grocery store and additional retail space at the same location without TIF. It is still in operation six years later.

Third: If it is true that we can’t have new development without TIF, there may be obstacles in place that should be removed so that development can take place without TIF.

Not free money

TIF has a cost. A real cost. If we don’t recognize that, then we must reconsider the foundation of local tax policy.

In Wichita, as in most cities, the largest consumers of property tax dollars are the city, county, and school district. All justify their tax collections by citing the services they provide: Law enforcement, fire protection, education, etc. It is for providing these services that we pay local taxes.

Within a TIF district, however, the new property tax dollars — the increment — do not go to the city, county, and school district to pay for services. Instead, these dollars are used in ways that benefit the development: Property acquisition, site preparation, utilities, drainage, street improvements, streetscape amenities, public outdoor spaces, landscaping, and parking facilities, according to the city’s explanation.

Yet, the new development will undoubtedly demand and consume the services local government provides — law enforcement, fire protection, and education. But its incremental property taxes do not pay for these, as they have been diverted elsewhere. (The base property taxes still go to pay for these services, but the base is usually low.) Instead, others must pay the cost of providing services to the TIF development, or accept reduced levels of service as existing service providers are saddled with new demand.

Supporters of TIF argue that developers aren’t getting a free ride. The city isn’t giving them cash, they say. The owners of the TIF development will be paying their full share of higher property taxes in the future. That’s true. But, these new tax dollars are spent for their benefit, not to pay for the cost of government.

We’re left with an uncomfortable situation. City officials tell us that we must pay property taxes so the city can provide services. (In fact, right now the Wichita city manager is recommending increasing property taxes to pay for more police officers.)

At the same time, however, the city creates special classes of people who use services but don’t pay for them.

Yes, the city and developers cite the but for argument, arguing that without the benefit of TIF, there won’t be new development and new demand for services. But we’ve seen that the but for rationale is dubious and subject to abuse.

Of note: At a recent public meeting regarding Naftzger Park, someone asked if some of the $1.5 million could be used for more police officers. The answer from city officials was “no.” That answer is correct. But in the normal case, part of this $1.5 million would be available to pay for more police.

Also: The redevelopment district in which incremental taxes will be redirected to Naftzger Park includes a number of properties that are already developed.

Allowed uses: It’s just infrastructure

In their justification of TIF, proponents may say that TIF dollars are spent only on allowable purposes. Usually a prominent portion of TIF dollars are spent on things that are related to infrastructure, as listed above. This allows TIF proponents to say the money isn’t really being spent for the benefit of a specific project. It’s spent on infrastructure, they say, which they contend is something that benefits everyone, not one project specifically. Therefore, everyone ought to pay.

But this isn’t the case. Often non-TIF developers pay for significant infrastructure at their own expense. An example is the Waterfront development in northeast Wichita. There is a street that winds through the development, Waterfront Parkway. To anyone driving or walking in this area, they would think this is just another city street — although a very nicely designed and landscaped street. But the city did not pay for this street. Private developers paid $1,672,000 for this infrastructure, and then deeded it to the city. The same developers paid for street lights, traffic signals, sewers, water pipes, and turning lanes on major city streets. In order to build the Waterfront development, private developers paid for infrastructure, with a total cost of these projects at one time being $3,334,500. It has likely risen since then. 5

In the case of Naftzger Park, it’s argued that the park benefits everyone. Therefore, it’s akin to infrastructure. In reality, the park is more like the front yard of a proposed hotel and a nearby building, being developed for their owner’s benefit. The developers of these are managing, along with the city, the plans for Naftzger Park. Incredibly, applications to be the park’s architect were sent not to the city, but to the private developers. 6

Further: Park improvements were not an allowed use of TIF funds when the Center City South TIF was formed in 2007. So the city amended the TIF district plan to allow for TIF funds to be used to redevelop Naftzger Park. 7

Redirect your taxes, not mine

The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (WDDC) is funded, primarily, by property taxes. A district known as the Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID) levies a property tax in a district roughly defined as from Kellogg north to Central, and the Arkansas River east to Washington Street. In 2011 the mill levy was 5.950 and raised nearly $600,000 in revenue. 8 For 2016 the mill levy was 7.140. With an assessed value of $92,901,423, the SSMID tax ought to raise about $663,000. 9

All the property tax money raised by the SSMID is used to fund WDDC.

Now, WDDC — one of the leading advocates for the use of TIF in downtown Wichita — is quite happy to see incremental tax dollars redirected away from the city, county, and school district to benefit TIF developers. You might think that WDDC would also participate in this — purportedly — beneficial arrangement, consenting for its share of property tax to also be redirected for the benefit of developers.

Guess again. The SSMID — nearly the only source of funding for WDDC — is exempted from having its tax revenue capture by TIF and redirected to another purpose.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  2. The Center City South TIF district is an unusual case in that only 70 percent of the incremental taxes are redirected.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita Planeview neighborhood: Yes, we have! Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/in-wichita-planeview-neighborhood-yes-we-have/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. For Wichita, Save-A-Lot teaches a lesson. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/for-wichita-save-a-lot-teaches-a-lesson/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  6. City of Wichita. Request for Qualification No. – FP740043. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MQ1ZVcXVsNVQ2dkE/view?usp=sharing.
  7. Wichita city council agenda packet for May 16, 2016, agenda item IV-1.
  8. Wichita city ordinance 48-786. Available at http://wichitaks.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=820&meta_id=65004.
  9. Sedgwick County Clerk’s Office and author’s calculations.

Upcoming Naftzger Park legislative action

The redesign of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita is not a done deal, at least not legally.

While the City of Wichita is engaging citizens and planning for the future of Naftzger Park, there is still another legislative step the city must take in order to fully proceed. In Kansas, use of tax increment financing requires at least two steps. The first step is that cities or counties establish the boundaries of the TIF district. After the TIF district is defined, cities then must approve one or more project plans that authorize the spending of TIF funds in specific ways. (The project plan is also called a redevelopment plan.) In Kansas, overlapping counties and school districts have an opportunity to veto the formation of the TIF district, but this rarely happens. Once the district is formed, cities and counties have no ability to object to TIF project plans. 1

Center City South Redevelopment TIF District, July 2017. Click for larger.
In the case of Naftzger Park, the TIF district (named Center City South) was formed some years ago, and there have been redevelopment plans adopted that cover portions of this rather large TIF district. Now a new redevelopment project area is proposed that includes Naftzger Park and some surrounding property. In the nearby map from the city, the Center City South TIF district is shown. The redevelopment project area under consideration is labeled “11.”

In order to pass a redevelopment plan into statute, Kansas law requires a public hearing and passage of the redevelopment plan by a two-thirds majority of the governing body. For the Wichita city council, that means five votes are needed to adopt the project plan and start spending money. 2

Documents from the city explain: “The next step in establishing the legal authority to use TIF is the adoption by the City Council of a redevelopment project plan, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project and how TIF would be used, and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with TIF.” 3

Just for emphasis, from the same document: “Once adopted, the City will be authorized to use TIF to finance eligible project costs.”

(The terminology may be confusing. Some documents use the term “project plan” and sometimes “redevelopment plan.” TIF districts are also sometimes referred to as “redevelopment districts.”)

On July 11, 2017 the Wichita city council set August 15 as the date for the public hearing. Presumably a vote on adoption of the redevelopment plan will be at the same meeting, although votes like this have been delayed. And, there’s no guarantee there will be five votes in favor of adopting the plan.

Since the redevelopment plan has not been adopted, you may be wondering how the city is going to use TIF funds to pay the architects. That’s a good question. It is the city’s declared intent to use TIF funding for work that is currently being done: “The park design is anticipated to be provided by Tax Increment Financing and is identified in the proposed 2018 CIP.” 4

Another consideration: The city is proceeding at full speed — “an aggressive timetable” is the quote from the city manager — on the plan to redevelop Naftzger Park. 5 Public sentiment seems to be that it is a “done deal.” It’s going to happen, people are resigned to say.

To his credit, the city manager is also quoted in the same Eagle article showing his understanding that the process is not complete: “If the process doesn’t allow us to do it, it doesn’t allow us to do it,”

But other city officials act as though the design of Naftzger Park is inevitable, that the TIF money is there waiting to be spent, and those funds will be lost if not spent on the park.

With attitudes like this, I wonder why we should bother holding a public hearing.

Following is an excerpt from the July 11, 2017 city council agenda packet:

The next step in establishing the legal authority to use TIF is the adoption by the City Council of a redevelopment project plan, within the district, which provides more detailed information on the proposed project and how TIF would be used, and demonstrates how the projected increase in property tax revenue will amortize the costs financed with TIF. …

In accordance with state law, a TIF Project Plan has been prepared in consultation with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, which has made a finding that the project is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan for development of the area. In order to adopt a TIF Project Plan, the City Council must first set a public hearing no less than 30 and no more than 70 days from adoption of the resolution setting the hearing. The date of August 15, 2017, at the regular City Council meeting is proposed for the public hearing on the Naftzger Park Project Plan.

If adopted by the City Council, the attached resolution setting the August 15, 2017 public hearing will be sent to the owners and occupants of all property located within the proposed Naftzger Park Project Area, by certified mail. The resolution will also be published in the Wichita Eagle and copies will be provided to the Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education and their appropriate staff.

After closing the public hearing on August 15, 2017, the City Council may adopt the TIF Project Plan by ordinance, by two-thirds majority vote. Once adopted, the City will be authorized to use TIF to finance eligible project costs.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  2. 7 city council members times 2 divided by 3 equals 4.67, which must be rounded up to 5.
  3. Wichita city council agenda packet for July 11, 2017, item IV-1.
  4. Wichita city council agenda packet for July 18, 2017, item IV-3.
  5. Finger, Stan. Contentious crowd gathers to discuss Naftzger Park’s future, redesign. Wichita Eagle, July 27, 2017. Available here: http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article164112397.html.

In Wichita, new stadium to be considered

The City of Wichita plans subsidized development of a sports facility as an economic driver.

West Bank Redevelopment District. Click for larger.
This week the Wichita City Council will consider a project plan for a redevelopment district near Downtown Wichita. It is largely financed by Tax Increment Financing and STAR bonds. Both divert future incremental tax revenue to pay for various things within the district.1 2

City documents promise this: “The City plans to substantially rehabilitate or replace Lawrence-Dumont Stadium into a multi-sport athletic complex. The TIF project would allow the City to make investments in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, construct additional parking in the redevelopment district, initiate improvements to the Delano multi-use path and make additional transportation improvements related to the stadium project area. In addition to the stadium work, the City plans to construct, utilizing STAR bond funds, a sports museum, improvements to the west bank of the Arkansas River and construct a pedestrian bridge connecting the stadium area with the Century II block. The TIF project is part of the overall plan to revitalize the stadium area and Delano Neighborhood within the district.”3

We’ve heard things like this before. Each “opportunity” for the public to invest in downtown Wichita is accompanied by grand promises. But actual progress is difficult to achieve, as evidenced by the examples of Waterwalk, Kenmar,and Block One.4

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
In fact, change in Downtown Wichita — if we’re measuring the count of business firms, jobs, and payroll — is in the wrong direction, despite large public and private investment. 5

Perhaps more pertinent to a sports facility as an economic growth driver is the Intrust Bank Arena. Two years ago the Wichita Eagle noted the lack of growth in the area. 6 Since then, not much has changed. The area surrounding the arena is largely vacant. Except for Commerce Street, that is, and the businesses located there don’t want to pay their share of property taxes. 7

I’m sure the city will remind us that the arena was a Sedgwick County project, not a City of Wichita project, as if that makes a difference. Also, the poor economic performance cited above is for Downtown Wichita as delineated by zip code 67202, while the proposed baseball stadium project lies just outside that area, as if that makes a difference.

By the way, this STAR bonds district is an expansion of an existing district which contains the WaterWalk development. That development has languished, with acres of land having been available for development for many years. We’ve also found that the city was not holding the WaterWalk developer accountable to the terms of the deal that was agreed upon, to the detriment of Wichita taxpayers. 8

Following, selected articles on the economics of public financing of sports stadiums.

The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums

Scott A. Wolla, “The Economics of Subsidizing Sports Stadiums,” Page One Economics, May 2017. This is a project of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Link.
“Building sports stadiums has an impact on local economies. For that reason, many people support the use of government subsidies to help pay for stadiums. However, economists generally oppose such subsidies. They often stress that estimations of the economic impact of sports stadiums are exaggerated because they fail to recognize opportunity costs. Consumers who spend money on sporting events would likely spend the money on other forms of entertainment, which has a similar economic impact. Rather than subsidizing sports stadiums, governments could finance other projects such as infrastructure or education that have the potential to increase productivity and promote economic growth.”

What economists think about public financing for sports stadiums

Jeff Cockrell, Chicago Booth Review, February 01, 2017. Link.
“But do the economic benefits generated by these facilities — via increased tourism, for example — justify the costs to the public? Chicago Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets put that question to its US Economic Experts Panel. Fifty-seven percent of the panel agreed that the costs to taxpayers are likely to outweigh benefits, while only 2 percent disagreed — though several panelists noted that some contributions of local sports teams are difficult to quantify.”

Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are a Game That Taxpayers Lose

Jeffrey Dorfman. Forbes, January 31, 2015. Link.
“Once you look at things this way, you see that stadiums can only justify public financing if they will draw most attendees from a long distance on a regular basis. The Super Bowl does that, but the average city’s football, baseball, hockey, or basketball team does not. Since most events held at a stadium will rely heavily on the local fan base, they will never generate enough tax revenue to pay back taxpayers for the cost of the stadium.”

Sports Facilities and Economic Development

Andrew Zimbalist, Government Finance Review, August 2013. Link.
“This article is meant to emphasize the complexity of the factors that must be evaluated in assessing the economic impact of sports facility construction. While prudent planning and negotiating can improve the chances of minimizing any negative impacts or even of promoting a modest positive impact, the basic experience suggests that a city should not expect that a new arena or stadium by itself will provide a boost to the local economy.

Instead, the city should think of the non-pecuniary benefits involved with a new facility, whether they entail bringing a professional team to town, keeping one from leaving, improving the conveniences and amenities at the facility, or providing an existing team with greater resources for competition. Sports are central to cultural life in the United States (and in much of the world). They represent one of the most cogent ways for residents to feel part of and enjoy belonging to a community. The rest of our lives are increasingly isolated by modern technological gadgetry. Sport teams help provide identity to a community, and it is this psychosocial benefit that should be weighed against the sizeable public investments that sports team owners demand.”

Professional Sports as Catalysts for Metropolitan Economic Development

Robert A. Baade, Journal of Urban Affairs, 1996. Link.
“To attract or retain a team, cities are offering staggering financial support and rationalize their largesse on economic grounds. Do professional sports increase income and create jobs in amounts that justify the behavior of cities? The evidence detailed in this paper fails to support such a rationale. The primary beneficiaries of subsidies are the owners and players, not the taxpaying public.”


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. STAR bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/star-bonds-kansas/.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita TIF projects: some background. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-tif-projects-background/.
  3. Wichita City Council, agenda packet for July 18, 2017.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita’s Block One, a beneficiary of tax increment financing. Before forming new tax increment financing districts, Wichita taxpayers ought to ask for progress on current districts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-block-one-beneficiary-tax-increment-financing/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  6. “Ten years ago, Elizabeth Stevenson looked out at the neighborhood where a downtown arena would soon be built and told an Eagle reporter that one day it could be the ‘Paris of the Midwest.’ What she and many others envisioned was a pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood of quaint shops, chic eateries and an active arts district, supported by tens of thousands of visitors who would be coming downtown for sporting events and concerts. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Today, five years after the opening of the Intrust Bank Arena, most of the immediate neighborhood looks much like it did in 2004 when Stevenson was interviewed in The Eagle. With the exception of a small artists’ colony along Commerce Street, it’s still the same mix of light industrial businesses interspersed with numerous boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, dotted with ‘for sale’ and ‘for lease’ signs.” Lefler, Dion. 5 years after Intrust Bank Arena opens, little surrounding development has followed. Wichita Eagle. December 20, 2014. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article4743402.html.
  7. Riedl, Matt. Has Commerce Street become too cool for its own good? Wichita Eagle. April 8, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/keeper-of-the-plans/article143529404.html.
  8. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-agreement-not-followed/.

Naftzger Park public hearing to be considered

The Wichita City Council may set August 15, 2017 as the date for a public hearing on the future of Naftzger Park in downtown Wichita.

On Tuesday July 11, 2017, the Wichita City Council will consider setting August 15, 2017 as the date for the public hearing for consideration of the plan for the future of Naftzger Park. The relevant pages of the council agenda may be read here.

Much of the document is boilerplate material regarding tax increment financing districts. But there is some additional information.

First, the project is expected to cost $3,000,000: “Park improvements are projected to costs approximately $3,000,000, with $1,500,000 of such costs to be financed from proceeds of the City’s full faith and credit tax increment bonds.”

Second, we see some evidence of the care — or lack of — that the city puts into preparing these documents. The document contains a table called the “Projected Tax Increment Report.” It shows, year by year, the financial projections for the TIF district. Except: The table is subtitled “West Bank Redevelopment District / Delano and Stadium Project.” I think it’s safe to say that is a mistake. A second table titled “Projected Bond Cash Flow Report” has the same mistaken subtitle.

Here we see one of the real reasons for developing Naftzger Park:

“Seneca Property, LLC and Sunflower Wichita, LLC intend to develop the property immediately adjacent to Naftzger Park . The development of the area will consist of renovation the Spaghetti Works building into 41 apartments and the construction of approximately 62,000 square feet of Class A office and retail space. The development is planned to be designed to complement the Naftzger Park redevelopment design and is anticipated to generate a significant portion of the revenue necessary to support the Project.”

A company is developing property adjacent to Naftzger Park, and the company would like to see the park renovated to its liking. It is proposed that the new property taxes the company will pay be used to pay for the renovation.

Normally increased property taxes are used to pay for things like police and fire protection, city council salaries, and schools. But through tax increment financing (TIF), these increased property taxes will be rerouted for the benefit of the private property owner. In the process, a beautiful park will be replaced with an astroturf-covered plain.

For more information on Naftzger Park, including photographs, see Naftzger Park in Downtown Wichita.

A possible plan for Naftzger Park from the City of Wichita

Wichita WaterWalk agreement not followed

Does the City of Wichita enforce its public-private partnership agreements? In some cases the city doesn’t even ask for the information that is needed for enforcement.

A Wichita Eagle article reports on a 2002 public-private partnership that called for the private-sector company to submit an annual report to the city. But the company did not submit the reports, and the city didn’t ask for them. The city did after the Eagle inquired. 1

The deal involves the city leasing land to a private developer for a project now known as WaterWalk. Part of the deal called for the city to possibly receive annual payments in a form of profit-sharing. Annual reports to the city were to provide figures from which the city’s payment would be calculated.

There is an important issue here apart from the wisdom of striking the initial deal in 2002. That is, neither the city nor the company followed the terms of the deal. The annual reports were not supplied by the company, and they were not requested by the city, according to Eagle reporting. As it turns out the annual reports purport to show that the city was owed no money under the profit sharing agreement.

But that’s not the point. The issue is that the city did not enforce a simple aspect of the agreement, and the private-sector company felt it did not need to comply.

Some of the Eagle article is devoted to explaining that the deal was struck some years ago, and: “No city official who played a major role in the 2002 contract is still actively involved in government.”

I’m sure we will hear that excuse from current city council members and bureaucrats, that all this happened before our time. Anyone taking cover using that excuse deserves to be terminated immediately.

We should not accept this or any excuse. This is because in 2012 the city entered into a same or similar agreement in the same WaterWalk development with the same developer, Jack P. Deboer. It also called for the city to potentially earn payments, called “additional annual rent.” It also called for reports to be made, although the exact language used is “provide that calculation.” 2

I wonder: When city staff drafted the new agreement in 2012, and when the council deliberated the agreement, did anyone wonder how the 2002 agreement worked out? Did anyone wonder if the city earned any payments from that deal? The 2012 agreement was controversial, at least to some. I and others spoke to the council expressing our concerns. 3

I also wonder: Has the developer filed the annual reports from the 2012 agreement? I’ve asked the city.

Here is the article I filed in 2012: Wichita WaterWalk apartment deal not good for citizens.


Notes

  1. Lefler, Dion. WaterWalk profit-sharing: 15 years, zero dollars for Wichita. Wichita Eagle, July 8, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article160147944.html.
  2. “As Additional Annual Rent Tenant shall pay a sum equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the Adjusted Net Cash Flow commencing with the first day the Tenant Improvements open for business. The Tenant shall calculate Adjusted Net Cash Flow for each Current Year within forty-five (45) days after the end of the Current Year (or portion thereof) and provide that calculation, and pay to the Landlord the Additional Annual Rent, within sixty (60) days after the end of the Current Year. Additional Annual Rent shall continue until this Lease expires. Adjusted Net Cash Flow is Gross Revenues less Total Expenses, less the total amount of capital expenses for furniture, fixtures, and equipment for the Tenant Improvements in excess of the aggregate amount expended from any reserve during such year.” Amendments to WaterWalk Developer Agreements. August 21, 2012. Available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9Mdm1tWjlQbVAzemM/view?usp=sharing.
  3. Wichita City Council. Minutes of August 21, 2012 meeting. Available at http://wichitaks.granicus.com/MinutesViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=1843.

WichitaLiberty.TV Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV. Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau joins Bob Weeks and Karl Peterjohn to discuss current issues in Sedgwick County government. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 150, broadcast May 7, 2017.

Shownotes

On Wichita’s STAR bond promise, we’ve heard it before

Are the City of Wichita’s projections regarding subsidized development as an economic driver believable?

Map of STAR bond districts. Click for larger.
This week the Wichita City Council will consider a project plan for a STAR bonds district near Downtown Wichita. These bonds divert future incremental sales tax revenue to pay for various things within the district.1

City documents promise this: “The City plans to substantially rehabilitate or replace Lawrence Dumont Stadium as a modern multi-sport stadium as part of a larger project to develop the river and stadium areas. … Combined, the museum, pedestrian bridge, waterfront improvements and multi-sport stadium will generate significant new visitor tourism as well as provide signature quality of life amenities for the citizens of Wichita and the region.”2

We’ve heard things like this before. Each “opportunity” for the public to invest in downtown Wichita is accompanied by grand promises. But actual progress is difficult to achieve, as evidenced by the lack of progress in Block One.3

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
In fact, change in Downtown Wichita — if we’re measuring the count of business firms, jobs, and payroll — is in the wrong direction, despite public and private investment.4

Perhaps more pertinent to a sports facility as an economic growth driver is the Intrust Bank Arena. Five years ago the Wichita Eagle noted the lack of growth in the area.5 Since then, not much has changed. The area surrounding the arena is largely vacant. Except for Commerce Street, that is, and the businesses located there don’t want to pay their share of property taxes.6

I’m sure the city will remind us that the arena was a Sedgwick County project, not a city project, as if that makes a difference. Also, the poor economic performance cited above is for Downtown Wichita as delineated by zip code 67202, while the proposed STAR bond project lies just outside that area, as if that makes a difference.

By the way, this STAR bonds district is an expansion of an existing district which contains the WaterWalk development. That development has languished, with acres of land having been available for development for many years.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. STAR bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/star-bonds-kansas/.
  2. Agenda packet for May 2, 2017. Excerpt available at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MajNOUmQ3dDV0dXc/view.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita’s Block One, a beneficiary of tax increment financing. Before forming new tax increment financing districts, Wichita taxpayers ought to ask for progress on current districts. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-block-one-beneficiary-tax-increment-financing/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends/.
  5. “Ten years ago, Elizabeth Stevenson looked out at the neighborhood where a downtown arena would soon be built and told an Eagle reporter that one day it could be the ‘Paris of the Midwest.’ What she and many others envisioned was a pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood of quaint shops, chic eateries and an active arts district, supported by tens of thousands of visitors who would be coming downtown for sporting events and concerts. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Today, five years after the opening of the Intrust Bank Arena, most of the immediate neighborhood looks much like it did in 2004 when Stevenson was interviewed in The Eagle. With the exception of a small artists’ colony along Commerce Street, it’s still the same mix of light industrial businesses interspersed with numerous boarded-up buildings and vacant lots, dotted with ‘for sale’ and ‘for lease’ signs.” Lefler, Dion. 5 years after Intrust Bank Arena opens, little surrounding development has followed. Wichita Eagle. December 20, 2014. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article4743402.html.
  6. Riedl, Matt. Has Commerce Street become too cool for its own good? Wichita Eagle. April 8, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/keeper-of-the-plans/article143529404.html.

Downtown Wichita’s Block One, a beneficiary of tax increment financing

Before forming new tax increment financing districts, Wichita taxpayers ought to ask for progress on current districts.

Windows in the former Henry’s building promote Block One. They’re fading from exposure to the sun. Click for larger.
I’ll not bore you with the mechanism of tax increment financing (TIF). But if you’re curious, please read Wichita TIF projects: some background and Tax increment financing district (TIF) resources.

Whatever the mechanism, tax increment financing is meant to spur economic growth. But in one of Wichita’s largest TIF districts, economic activity, much less growth, is difficult to find.

In particular, “Block One” — a square block bounded by Douglas and William, Broadway and Topeka — has benefited from TIF money, but has stumbled. There is the Ambassador Hotel, which received many millions in taxpayer subsidy in addition to TIF benefits. There is also the Kansas Leadership Center, a handsome new building.

Block One retail space sits mostly empty, despite the benefit of tax increment financing. Click for larger.
But on William Street, progress is harder to find.

The former Henry’s building remains empty. Promotional materials in its display windows have been fading in the sun for four years. Across the alley to the east is 8,400 square feet of retail space, all empty for four years except for a used book store. It’s not for lack of parking that this space is empty, as it lies underneath a taxpayer-funded parking garage. There’s plenty of on-street parking too, as little happens on this block.

Some of the surrounding property is not doing well, either. The Broadway Plaza building features a large ground floor office or retail space that has been empty for years. South of that, the former State Office Building — directly across Broadway from the former Henry’s building — faces possible demolition.

Block One ribbon cutting, March 2013.
Has there been lack of promotion for Block One? No. The downtown development agency uses it as an example of the success of its efforts in downtown Wichita. It has called it “the first complete city block of development along the core of Douglas Avenue.”

But the legacy of this, at least along William Street, is empty storefronts and a hulking vacant building.

Now the City of Wichita has approved the formation of yet another tax increment financing district. Sedgwick County and the Wichita School District have an opportunity to veto its formation. Before approving any new tax increment financing districts, we might want to ask for some progress in what we have.

Block One promotional material. Click for larger.

In Kansas, the war on blight continues

Kansas governments are trying — again — to expand their powers to take property to the detriment of one of the fundamental rights of citizens: private property rights.

Empty lots in northeast Wichita. Click for larger version.
Last year cities in Kansas lobbied for a bill that would expand their powers to take property from its lawful owners, all in the name of saving neighborhoods from “blight.” Governor Brownback vetoed that bill, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition.”1

The governor further explained: “The broad definition of blighted or abandoned property would grant a nearly unrestrained power to municipalities to craft zoning laws and codes that could unjustly deprive citizens of their property rights. The process of granting private organizations the ability to petition the courts for temporary and then permanent ownership of the property of another is rife with potential problems.”

The bill introduced this year is SB 31, titled “Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities.”2 It is a slightly modified version of SB 338, the bill from last year.It deserves opposition for the same multitude of reasons. Last year John Todd summarized the reasons for opposition:

  • Senate Bill 338 appears to provide local governmental units with additional tools that they don’t need to “take” properties in a manner that circumvents the eminent domain statutes that private property rights advocates fought so hard to achieve in 2006.
  • The total lack of compensation to the property owner for the deprivation or taking of his or her property is missing in the bill.
  • Allowing a city or their third party take possession of vacant property they do not own and have not obtained legal title to is wrong.
  • Please take a look at a comparison between a free-market private sector solution as contrasted to a government mandated program to achieving affordable housing and the impact highly subsidized government housing solutions are having on adjacent home owners.

This year’s bill is a “committee bill,” meaning that no legislator was willing to be a named sponsor. We might call this the “Longwell-Meitzner bill,” as these two Wichita City Council members were particularly disappointed that the governor of Kansas blocked their power grab.3

Of note, Todd and I, along with others, had a luncheon meeting with a Kansas Senator who voted for last year’s bill. When we told him of our opposition, he asked questions like, “Well, don’t you want to fight blight? What will cities do to fight blight without this bill?” When we listed and explained the many tools cities already have, he said that he hadn’t been told of these. This is evidence that this bill is not needed. It’s also evidence of the ways cities try to increase their powers at the expense of the rights of people.

Following, John Todd’s testimony opposing SB 31. His exhibits are available via a link at the end of the testimony.4

January 26, 2017

Senator Elaine Bowers, Chair
Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government

Subject: MY OPPOSITION to Senate Bill No. 31 scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee on January 26, 2017

Dear Senator Bowers and members of the Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee,

I OPPOSE the passage of Senate Bill No. 31 of 2017 since it is basically a slightly modified and expanded version of the Senate Bill No. 338 of 2016 that Governor Sam Brownback correctly vetoed. I see no new provisions in the 2017 bill that gives citizens any additional private property protection; rather, it strengthens local authorities “unmitigated power in determining which properties should be seized, allowing localities to write their own rules. It also cedes to municipalities the power to select which private organizations receive control of the property.”

This quote is from an e-mail the Governor’s office issued in announcing his Veto of the 2016 bill (see copy attached). A “Message from the Governor” dated April 11, 2016 provides his excellent reasoning for the Veto, explaining, “The right to private property serves as a central pillar of the American constitutional tradition (see copy attached).

Shortly after starting my career in the real estate business in 1976 I acquired my first rehab house. It was located in the Old Orchard area of Wichita that everyone considered one of the most economically challenged and difficult neighborhoods to work with in town. I paid the seller nearly $20 thousand her dilapidated house that included three vacant single family building lots. It cost me in the range of $10 thousand to rehabilitate the house that included repairing a caved in concrete block basement wall. I sold the rehabilitated house and the lot it was on for the $30 thousand I had invested in the transaction and wound up with the vacant lots free and clear. I sold the three lots to a builder for $9 thousand cash and he subsequently built three new affordable entry level homes on them.

Now let’s take a look at this private sector transaction:

  1. The seller of the house received cash for her property through a mutually agreed upon transaction without coercion (no eminent domain) involved.
  2. I rehabilitated the house and sold it to a young couple for their first home.
  3. The builder who purchased the 3 vacant lots built three new houses that he sold to owner occupant homeowners.
  4. The builder provided construction jobs and purchased building materials from local vendors.
  5. The Orchard neighborhood saw immediate improvement and felt the benefits of economic uplift.
  6. The City, County, and School District tax base was expanded providing with one rehabilitated and three new houses thus providing additional tax revenue to fund fire, police, public safety, and money to educate our children.
  7. I paid Federal and state taxes on the profit I made in the transaction and I suspect the builder did too.
  8. There was no need for government subsidies of any nature for this private sector transaction to work.

Now in contrast, let’s take a look at how our local government has been handling similar neighborhood opportunities. Please take a look at the attached Building Blocks Infill Project Area map to discover what has been happening in a predominantly African American neighborhood community in Wichita.

  1. The vacant green rectangles are dozens of vacant lots where houses once stood that were bulldozed by the city.
  2. The owners of these houses were paid $0 for the houses that were taken by the city’s bulldozer
  3. In my judgment, many if not a majority of these bulldozed houses had economic value and offered the potential for rehabilitation and the creation of low-cost entry level housing. (See exhibit A)
  4. The city charged the property owner $8 – $10 thousand for bulldozing charges leaving the owner with a vacant lot that was left to produce high weeds and collect trash.
  5. Most of the owners let their vacant lots go back for taxes and many were sold for $100 or less and they received $0 for their properties.
  6. Thus the existing and potential tax base was lost as well as the wonderful opportunity for clean low-cost affordable entry level home ownership that is part of the American dream.
  7. Some of the most vulnerable and economically challenged property owners of our city rightly feel helpless in the face of this devastation.

Now local governmental officials are asking you for additional powers through Senate Bill No. 31 to “deal” with this problem.

  1. They want the power to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners anything for their property.
  2. They want to empower non-profit (non-taxpaying) organizations of their choice to seize unoccupied houses without compensating the owners for their property.
  3. The non-profits involved in the redevelopment of this neighborhood community with the exception of Habitat for Humanity rely heavily on tax subsidies for wealthy taxpayers and generous Federal subsidies in the range of $50 thousand for each house built and sold.
  4. I hear talk of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to finance redevelopment in this community. The TIF program is simply a diversion of tax revenue that needs to go to city, county, and school district treasuries and not flow back to developers.

I see nothing in Senate Bill No. 31 that does anything to promote private sector redevelopment.

Is there a private sector solution? I say YES and I see it happening. Private sector investors, contractors and homeowners are stepping up and seizing opportunity (See Exhibit B). This economic uplift is healthy for the neighborhood community, expands the tax base, and offers an opportunity for investor/contractor profit in some cases or low-cost affordable home homeownership in others.

The rehabilitation of existing houses and redevelopment on vacant “infill” is best achieved by the private sector and not by government planners or their favored non-profit entitles.

The taking of property by local government without compensation is wrong. I believe that was what Governor Brownback was saying in his veto message, “Government should defend and protect the property rights of all citizens, ensuring that the less advantaged are not denied the liberty to which ever other citizen is entitled.”

I urge you to OPPOSE passage of Senate Bill No. 31!

Sincerely,
John R. Todd
A Kansas Citizen

The exhibits referred to are available in pdf form. Click here.


Notes

  1. Weeks, Bob. Governor Brownback steps up for property rights. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/governor-brownback-steps-property-rights/.
  2. SB 31. Rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities. http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/sb31/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. In Wichita, revealing discussion of property rights. https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/wichita-revealing-discussion-property-rights/.
  4. Todd, John. Exhibits on Blight in Wichita. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B97azj3TSm9MMzFYZDQxRTRJb1U/view?usp=sharing.