Power & Blight: the Argument to Redevelop Kansas City’s Latest Redevelopment

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PB_KCWhen the City of St. Louis finds it advantageous to offer Tax Increment Financing for projects large and small, it employs the label of “blight”. What is blight? The legal definition in Missouri is: “That portion of the city within which the legislative authority of such city determines that by reason of age, obsolescence, inadequate or outmoded design or physical deterioration have become economic and social liabilities, and that such conditions are conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, crime or inability to pay reasonable taxes.”

Having spent several days in Kansas City, I offer this argument to blight and redevelop the Power & Light district. The dress code, the $300M in local subsidies, and concentration of chain bars and restaurants are social and economic liabilities and conditions at P&L clearly are conducive to ill health, transmission of disease and crime. Given subsidies, it’s likely that the district is also not paying “reasonable” taxes.

PL_KC
{Howl at the Moon is conducive to ill health, low morals, and the transmission of disease}

This is clearly a little tongue-in-cheek, but means to bring to light the abuse of “blight” and the failure of large entertainment projects to tie together a city, invest in the local community and positively impact the civic life of the community. P&L does none of this. The district simply moves money spent by residents to large national chains, separates this activity to a purpose-built district and homogenizes the city.

To bring this to St. Louis, P&L developer Cordish once had very big and very similar plans for Ballpark Village. The center-city single developer entertainment district model should be passé. Its time has passed. It’s an outmoded design. That model doesn’t revive a city. With the groundbreaking of Ballpark Village, a two-block $100M development that will include a Cardinals Hall-of-Fame and a Budweiser bar and restaurant, there is some hope in St. Louis. There’s hope that the remaining four blocks may not resemble its start.

PL_KC3
{Power & Light is clearly an economic and social liability to Kansas City}

But that’s St. Louis. In Kansas City P&L could and should be blighted:

AN ORDINANCE AFFIRMING ADOPTION OF A REDEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR POWER & LIGHT; AND PRESCRIBING THE FORM AND DETAILS OF SAID AGREEMENT; AND AN APOLOGY

WHEREAS, pursuant to Ordinance No. 1348, the City Council has determined that completion of the Redevelopment Project for Power & Light is of economic significance to the City, will serve to benefit the general welfare, qualifies for the use of tax increment allocation financing to alleviate the conditions that qualify it as a “blighted area” as provided in the TIF Act, and further, that redevelopment of the Redevelopment Area in accordance with the Redevelopment Plan is not financially feasible without the adoption of tax increment allocation financing and would not otherwise be completed; and

WHEREAS, it is necessary and desirable and in the best interest of the City to enter into an agreement with the Developer, in order that Developer may complete a Redevelopment Project for Power & Light which will provide for the promotion of the general welfare through redevelopment of the Redevelopment Area in accordance with the Redevelopment Plan which redevelopment includes, but is not limited to, assistance in the physical, economic, and social development of Kansas City, preservation of historic structures, providing for a plan for the optimal growth of Kansas City, encouragement of a sense of community identity, safety and civic pride and the elimination of impediments to development in Kansas City; and

WHEREAS, pursuant to the provisions of the TIF Act, the City is authorized to enter into a redevelopment agreement with the Developer, setting forth the respective rights and obligations of the City and Developer with regard to the redevelopment of Power & Light; and

WHEREAS, the City Council hereby determines that the terms of the Power & Light Redevelopment Agreement attached as Exhibit A hereto and incorporated herein by reference are acceptable and that the execution, delivery and performance by the City and the Developer of their respective obligations under the Redevelopment Agreement are in the best interests of the City and the health, safety, morals and welfare of its residents, and in accord with the public purposes specified in the TIF Act and the Redevelopment Plan.

BE IT ORDAINED BY THE CITY OF KANSAS CITY FOLLOWS:

SECTION ONE. The City Council hereby ratifies and confirms its approval of the Power & Light redevelopment plan and apologizes to the people of Kansas City for previously ignoring the best interests of the City and the health, safety, morals and welfare of its residents.

The most recent renderings released for Ballpark Village in St. Louis:

BPV3
{Ballpark Village Phase I as seen from inside Busch Stadium on a Cardinals gameday}

Ballpark Village 2013
{Ballpark Village Phase I site plan (bottom) and recent larger site plan (top)}

Ballpark Village
{an early site plan, since scaled down, of Ballpark Village}

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  • Ted

    I think that we all knew that the Cardinals were going to put a hall of fame on the Ballpark Village property, and a new restaurant is not the worst thing that could go on the property, so I think its time to accept the first phase for what it is. I think that we should realize that people with ideas create jobs and transformations, not developments. If you want the development to contain office space and residential, it seems to me that we should be working to create that demand. I don’t understand why we should demand that the developers “build it and they will come.”

    • Alex Ihnen

      I don’t have much of a problem with Phase I. But the city and state gave the Cardinals $17M to build it. If we’re going to subsidize development, shouldn’t it at least be for things that grow a community?

      • matthb

        What falls under the “grow a community” umbrella? Housing, offices, a school, local retailers? That’s easy to say, but what is it? What goes on the remainder of the site that fits the bill? Office tower, apartment tower, more restaurants and shopping?

        • Adam

          seems to me a modern residential tower would be a no-brainer here, not to mention that residential is filling up fast downtown (occupancy is 90%). adding residents is the best way to grow a community since, well, people = community.

  • MDS

    I have to disagree with this article. I lived in downtown Kansas City (about 10 blocks from Power and Light) from July 2011 – June 2012 and throughout that time I saw the development as a great asset to the city. On numerous occasions I found myself wishing that a similar complex would be built on the Ballpark Village site (which I currently live 4 blocks away from). I agree that it would be nice if the bars and restaurants were locally owned, but I think it is far from a blight on the city. If you walk around downtown KC you will see that a considerable concentration of locally owned businesses are right outside of P&L. The popularity of the development has given suburbanites cause to flock to the city and has drawn a crowd large enough to make several square blocks of surrounding area economically viable. Yes, the restaurants inside might be pedestrian and the bars transparently demographic-targeted, but the shear draw of the development has transformed a huge area of downtown. And all that with minimal access to public transportation and no major sports team within 10 miles. I’ll take that for downtown St. Louis any day.

    • T-Leb

      MDS makes some good points.

  • T-Leb

    Anyone I have ever talked to in St. Louis would love to live in a residential tower that overlooks Busch Stadium. It would instantly become one of the most desirable places to live in St. Louis.

    • Hasan

      How about a residential tower that overlooks a PBR?

      • T-Leb

        Even better. I can be assured that on weekends, there will be plenty of women drinking nearby and wanting to “save a horse, ride a cowboy”

  • John R

    Cordish will be breaking ground on a 25 story residential tower at Power & Light and has an eye on 3 more 15-20 story towers by the end of the decade. So that’s pretty nice but this first tower comes at a price of $7.5 million in direct backing from the city as well as a 25 yr. tax abatement.
    Question to ponder… let’s say Cards and City agree to reinstate the admissions tax, which I believe is $1 per ticket and would bring in about $3 million per year for the city. If that were done, would it make sense to consider directly backing a similar tower(s) to help spur residential development in BPV? For the Cards, they get direct backing for the development while not losing any direct future revenue and likely won’t see much loss at the gate with a small additional fee not likely deterring attendance . For the city, it gains more downtown development and residents plus associated sales and income tax while possibly gaining more through the admission tax (depending on how things were structured).

  • Alex Devlin

    There are two things that will make St.Louis different then Kansas City.
    1. St. Louis has three major arenas downtown. Kansas City missed something big by building the Royals and Chiefs outside of the city. Can you imagine the revenue P&L would see every weekend during football season if the stadium was down the street? Kansas City has to fight for events and concerts in the sprint center instead of having a constant flow of traffic and sporting events.
    2. While KC is leading Missouri in a streetcar plan already in progress they are missing 600,000 to 700,000 people by not having a light rail in Jackson County. St. Louis could improve the metro but even still downtown is far more accessible to metro STL than downtown KC to metro KC.
    I expect to see a far different outcome in St.Louis. In a few years I think we will see articles comparing the two developments.
    This coming from a guy whose spent the last week studying beautiful KC neighborhoods.

  • jhoff1257

    I have mixed feelings about this post. I currently live in Kansas City and aside from a six month stint in St. Louis last year, I’ve have been here nearly 7 years. I don’t like Power and Light, at all really. Very basic design, chain retail and restaurants (not that BPV does much better on that front…yet), and a few accusations of severe racism. Plus Cordish controls nearly every aspect of the development despite the City handing over the bank to pay for it. I even know this from personal experience. I lost my job with the City of KCMO because my department didn’t have enough money to keep me. Maybe some of that $13+ million a year going to P&L debt could have shored up a few positions, including my own. But I also don’t deny the effect P&L has had on Downtown Kansas City. Downtown KC’s redevelopment would be years behind had P&L not been built. You could even argue that without P&L the KC Streetcar wouldn’t be breaking ground as we speak (the City Council today voted to approve 8 miles in expansions by the way). Hotels, an apartment tower, renovations, and new builds (some WITHOUT incentives) are all happening in Downtown KC. It really is booming, and I think P&L played a large part in that boom.

    I do think that Ballpark Village will be more successful, I also think it looks much better, and I can appreciate the wait and the scaled down development thus far as well. It’s one of the many reasons the City of St. Louis isn’t in debt up to it’s eyeballs right now. The readers of this blog know that the “silver bullet” has never worked in St. Louis (ever!). At least we can push for better development for the future phases. I think St. Louis still has the opportunity to do something great here, and without busting the budget open.