City Council looks at tax breaks for downtown developments

Saturday, March 15, 2008 | 3:31 p.m. CDT; updated 7:18 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — The City Council will hear a proposal Monday for an ordinance that would allow the city to give tax breaks for new downtown developments. The ordinance would create a commission to process applications for Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, and advise the City Council.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said TIFs are necessary to bring new developments to the area.


To read the complete proposal for the Tax Increment Financing commission, click here. To read the ordinance for the creation of a downtown leadership council, click here.

TIFs can take different forms, but in essence they give incentives for construction, renovation and expansion. The city can use new property taxes on an expanded development for infrastructure-related construction or decide not to tax the expanded areas of a development for an agreed amount of time.

“We would be freezing tax revenues at current levels,” City Manager Bill Watkins said. “No one loses.”

Both Hindman and Watkins emphasized that TIFs would be used only to help projects that would not otherwise take place and that money would not be taken from other city or county resources. The commission would be in charge of evaluating applicants for TIFs, Watkins said. One of the commission’s main responsibilities would be to evaluate whether a business actually needs TIF money and whether TIFs would be the only way for a development to go forward.

Watkins said the tax breaks and the exact amount of money contributed by the city for TIF projects would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The proposal has been endorsed by the Special Business District board. A news release from the board said tax breaks had been useful in upgrading older buildings and that the city should use a similar approach for encouraging new developments.

Hindman said TIFs make sense because the redevelopment of the downtown is important to the city, and the infrastructure is already in place. Giving tax breaks for developing areas would be more expensive because the city would have to build new infrastructure components such as roads and sewers.

The city has emphasized redeveloping the downtown in recent years. The Boston-based planning firm Sasaki Associates was hired by the city, MU and Stephens College in 2006, and the firm presented a detailed redevelopment proposal for the area. The City Council will also be voting Monday on an ordinance to create a downtown leadership program.

A main component of the Sasaki proposal was the construction of multi-use buildings that would increase the amount of people living and working downtown.

Two hotel developments proposed to the City Council in October 2007 are examples of when TIFs would be used. John Ott, owner of the Tiger Hotel, asked the council to look into TIFs. Ott said he wants to renovate the building and turn it back into a hotel, and any new construction has been on hold pending the city’s decision on a TIF ordinance.

“Our goal is as soon as a TIF commission is established is to make a proposal,” Ott said.

The Sasaki plan discusses “catalyst projects,” developments that would also help the area surrounding it. A renovated Tiger Hotel could be one of these, Ott said, by drawing more people to stay overnight in the downtown area and spend money at local restaurants and businesses.

The owners of Regency Hotel have proposed a plan to tear down the building and construct a 120 room, six-story Hyatt; the project would cost $16 million. The proposed construction does not include TIF money, but the city would assist by building an adjacent city-owned $7 million parking garage with 290 spaces.

The proposed commission would have 11 members. Six members would be appointed by the mayor with the council’s consent, two by the Columbia Board of Education, two by the presiding commissioner of Boone County and one member would be appointed as a representative from affected districts.

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