Columbia moving forward with tax-increment financing plans

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 | 5:40 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As the city goes back to the drawing board on one public financing program, plans to institute another are under way.

The Columbia City Council voted unanimously Monday to rescind a resolution that created an advisory board for the enhanced enterprise zone program, a tool designed to attract manufacturing jobs to Columbia. The council likely will vote on an ordinance establishing a new board charged with targeting areas for the program within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, city staff are prepping a proposal for increased use of tax-increment financing to address infrastructure issues in the central city.

What the heck is tax-increment financing? This short animated video will explain it.

Tax-increment financing, commonly referred to as TIF, is a method cities across Missouri and the nation use to spur redevelopment. In February, the council and City Manager Mike Matthes began talking about whether to place the entire First Ward into a TIF district to address stormwater, vacant housing, poor sidewalks and other problems that First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said “have been festering for years.”

Brent Gardner, a member of the city's Downtown Leadership Council, attended a recent meeting with city officials at which Matthes explained how the process works.  The group, which Gardner said included Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine, Public Works Director John Glascock and Economic Development Director Mike Brooks, also discussed which sections of town could benefit from TIF. Gardner said the city is in the preliminary stages of creating a map, and many options for boundaries are still in play.

"Nothing was discussed about keeping it in one ward," Gardner said.

St. Romaine said the city invited representatives Gardner and Randy Gray from the Leadership Council to what he called an internal staff meeting. Attendees discussed whether to establish a TIF district and areas where infrastructure is lacking. He said that the city is looking specifically at parts of the central city and that creating multiple smaller districts, rather than one large district, is a possibility.

Creating one or more TIF districts would be a change from the current practice in Columbia. Two TIF projects are under way downtown: the renovation of The Tiger Hotel and the construction of a new DoubleTree hotel at the former site of the Regency on Broadway. Those projects target specific areas, while TIF districts are designed with larger boundaries to enable more widespread development projects.

Gardner called tax-increment financing "a different animal" than an enhanced enterprise zone, saying TIF districts can ensure targeted infrastructure improvements that include potentially addressing stormwater runoff that pollutes Hinkson Creek.

During public comment of the enhanced enterprise zone proposal Monday night, several members of the public spoke about the consequences of deeming parts of Columbia “blighted.” A requirement of a TIF redevelopment plan — similar to the enhanced enterprise zone proposal — is to designate an area as blighted or in need of conservation to avoid eventual decay.

Opponents worried the designation could open the door for the city to exercise eminent domain. The city can choose to condemn the property and move forward with its own redevelopment plans once it exercises that power.

Mark Flakne of Keep Columbia Free urged the council during public comment on  the enhanced enterprise zone not to ignore the ramifications of blight designations.

“It’s very important to me — and many people — that we do not gloss over the issue of blight and how that relates to eminent domain abuse in Missouri,” Flakne said. He said that, in recent years, eminent domain has been used in Missouri “to take land and property especially from the least among us and minority populations.”

Gardner said one main difference between TIF districts and an enhanced enterprise zone is a limitation on what is considered blighted.

"An EEZ blights everything within its boundaries," Gardner said. "A TIF map does not."

A conservation TIF district, which is Schmidt's stated preference for the First Ward, requires that a majority of its buildings be 35 years or older and that conditions within the boundaries might eventually lead to blight.

Fifth Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony urged the city at the close of Monday’s meeting to involve the public in the process of creating TIF districts. Anthony acknowledged that there were no imminent plans to create a district but said it would be “an excellent time for us to schedule a meeting with the public,” possibly as early as June.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe asked that members of affected neighborhoods be notified of public meetings discussing TIF districts. State law requires an ordinance to create a TIF district, which requires a public hearing.

St. Romaine said the city plans to include the community in the process.

“We look forward to a much broader discussion with the public,” St. Romaine said.

Gardner said that city officials will meet again next week to discuss potential areas for the use of TIF.

"My guess is that we'll probably come up with a map that is kind of fluid," Gardner said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Mike Martin May 8, 2012 | 9:33 p.m.

And I'm already hearing tales about how city manager Matthes and the good ol' boys are trying to shut the public and Council out of this new, giant TIF.

When, oh when, is this crap going to end? Didn't they get enough public ire over the EEZ?

City Hall and the development lobby needs to hold off on any more backroom incentive programs.

Stop talking about putting OUR neighborhoods into special districts that involve legally potent designations like blight, and have legally powerful repercussions, like the continued winnowing of tax dollars.

The state's largest TIF district to date, the KC Power and Light district, has turned into a financial disaster.
And all around the state, the same dark heart of these programs -- eminent domain -- is used and abused.

Enough with the central planning already, targeted at poor and minority neighborhoods. All City Hall needs to do is spend the tax money we give them on proper infrastructure, and dump the greedy gimmicks.

So here's my acronym for TIF and EEZ:


(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne May 9, 2012 | 1:04 p.m.

Audrey Spalding for City Manager!

Read why at these two links...

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas May 9, 2012 | 1:15 p.m.

Yup, ready for more shenanigans.

Mr. Gardner, I appreciate you stepping up here, your role in the Council, and your willingness to be interviewed for this article; but, in my humble opinion, if you haven't already, you should consider what you might also be stepping into. You probably know better than I do, but it seems to me that these conversations, or presentation, about development proposals aren't much more than a facade for the need to deal with a much neglected mess.

When you put your name on the signs you use to sell houses in my neighborhood, you know I see that, right? If this incredibly accurate TIF missile is such a good idea, how about you explain it to us and let us decide for ourselves before you go running around finding places that it can be applied to? I don't care if it works, I want to be assured that I am not treated as collateral damage in a process that allows other people to make a lot of money. Pillage, plunder, what have you, and don´t be surprised if there is a heavy price to pay some point in the future. That is how credit works, ins´t it?

Y'all can do your dirty business as long as you can distract enough people, or convince them that they somehow stand to benefit. I'm not feelin' it though, the benefit that is.

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton May 9, 2012 | 1:47 p.m.

Of course their example uses a grocery store (which a lot of city centers need) and an abandoned house. That's an awfully rosy scenario. How many abandoned (as opposed to empty) houses are there in Columbia? Not many.
None are the size of a grocery store.
How many grocery stores are we funding for the inner city? Zero.

TIF is an investment where the city (basically) pays a developer a million bucks to get back $20,000 a year. That's terrible math/business/accounting for everyone involved...except the guy getting the million bucks.

EVERYONE has a project they'd like to do but can't afford. Or a building/area they'd love the city to come and fix up on the taxpayer dime. Anyone ELSE in Columbia got any drainage or utilities issues, or need sidewalks or grass or trees or better parking or street paving or widening, or a fire hydrant or street light?

Instead of spending money where it's NEEDED by a lot of people, we spend it where it's WANTED by a few. We create a system where a group of good old boys influence a handful of public servants to determine who "we" will throw our tax dollars at.

And you can bet that every one of those buildings will end up with Griggs' flooring in them, Atkins doing lawn and building maintenance, and so forth. So it's win/win for the good old boys and whoever gets the TIF to pay for their project or improvements.

Whether you want to or not, every single taxpayer in Columbia is giving money to two new hotels [yet other hotels in town had to build or renovate without taxpayer help]. If you had to make a list of businesses you want to give* your money to, would those be on the top of your list? Well, guess what...they are now.
[* It's taken from you, but we'll use "give" as shorthand.]

This is what is meant by the phrase GOVERNMENT PICKING WINNERS AND LOSERS. And government here doesn't mean "we, the people"--it means a cabal of the well-connected.

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton May 9, 2012 | 1:57 p.m.

We already know what a boondoggle TIF's have been in Kansas City.
Click on this (.pdf) and scroll down to page 35 to see how they've worked out in StL:

There's a simple summary of their findings, including this one:
10. Broad measures of regional economic outcomes strongly suggest that massive tax expenditures to promote development have not resulted in real growth.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas May 9, 2012 | 2:03 p.m.

...public hearing...Columbia City Council, September 18, 2006...abandoned buildings referred to in this proposal for a grocery are actually owned by the City now...yes, Mr. Griggs was there then, too.

(Report Comment)
Mike Griggs May 9, 2012 | 3:48 p.m.

Justin Thomas...are you referring to the Heibel-March building? If so, this building used to be the former Black Grocery store, a drug store and finally it became the Rangeline Auto Parts store. It closed and the lot sat vacant for several years until the City purchased it for park purposes in 1998.

The intent of the Parks & Recreation department was to create more green space in the area and the building was scheduled for demolition. It had nothing to do with a TIF or EEZ. Just plans for a park. However, during the public input process, it was decided to keep the building and let the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association (NCCNA)operate the building. The building was sold to the Central Missouri Counties' Human Development Corporation for $10 so that NCCNA could apply for grants.

Unfortunately, efforts by CMCHDC and the Neighborhood Association to raise the necessary funds to complete the project were unsuccessful. In March of 2008 it was announced that renovation efforts were being suspended. Upon the expiration of the lease, the title to the building was transferred back to the City.

Since then, the City has been trying to find someone to restore the building. This includes failed agreements with First Chance for Children in 2009 and Legacy Construction in 2011. There have been several interested parties since then, but so far, no official proposals have been submitted.

Complete history of the Heibel-March Building is available on our website at:

Justin..if you or anyone else have any comments about this building or if you wish to clarify your statement, please do not hesitate to call me at 874-7460. Thanks.

Mike Griggs,
Assistant Parks & Recreation Director

(Report Comment)
Mark Flakne May 9, 2012 | 3:55 p.m.

@Mike Griggs: I think the "Griggs" being referred to herein is cousin Dave.

(Report Comment)
Mike Griggs May 9, 2012 | 4:04 p.m.

@Mark Flakne...Thanks Mark and you're probably right. And for the record, Dave and I aren't related. Friends, yes, as I got to know him back when I worked for several local construction companies.

(Report Comment)

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