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Compton makes proposal for downtown mural; KU pulls plug on popular downtown shot put event; a tax rebate for apartment project looming


A downtown mural, a shot put and possibly a few million dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives: That's either one really strange pre-St. Patrick's Day party, or else it is the current stew of issues brewing at Lawrence City Hall.

Indeed, there are several interesting issues slated for the Lawrence City Commission's meeting next week. Here's a look:

• A development group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton was given until April 8 to provide an update on how his group could save a prominent downtown mural that is on the site of a planned multistory apartment building.

Well, Compton said he didn't need until April 8 to spell out the situation. He has sent a letter to city officials saying it will be impossible to allow the wall that houses the mural to remain standing during the construction project at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

As part of the construction of the seven-story apartment building, crews will dig a hole more than 30-feet deep to accommodate an underground parking garage. Digging that deep hole and leaving the wall in place aren't compatible, Compton said.

But Compton said he's willing to provide up to $20,000 to split the existing wall into sections and have it moved to another location. If that isn't deemed acceptable, he said he also would commission Lawrence artist Dave Loewenstein to recreate the mural on a designated space on the proposed building. The mural, however, would be significantly smaller than it is today.

I haven't had a chance yet to talk with supporters of the mural to determine whether any of Compton's proposals seem like a workable solution. I'll let you know when I hear back on that. City commissioners are scheduled to discuss Compton's letter at their meeting on Tuesday.

"I hope the commission agrees that we have made reasonable offers to resolve the issue," Compton wrote.

The city already has given the bulk of the approvals needed for the seven-story apartment building, which will be built on the site of the former Black Hills Energy headquarters. The city, however, must still approve a site plan for the project. It is unclear how much authority the city has to insist on preserving the mural as part of the site plan. The more important approval for the project is more than $4 million in tax increment financing incentives for the building. The city has given preliminary approval for the incentives, but final approval isn't expected to come until April. Those incentives are completely discretionary on the part of the city. City commissioners, though, have been big supporters of the proposed apartment project and the idea of new residents living in downtown. So, I wouldn't expect this mural issue to put the project in any jeopardy, but it will be interesting to see what tack commissioners take on this.

• Over the past few years, the intersection of Eighth and New Hampshire streets has turned into an odd scene even by downtown Lawrence standards: World-class athletes have used the intersection to conduct a shot put competition.

It has been part of the Kansas Relays, and when the weather has cooperated, it has been a boon to downtown. Some of the events have brought about 3,000 people to downtown for the competition and a street festival afterward.

But this year's event has an unexpected complication: The Kansas University athletics department is pulling all financial support for the downtown shot put event, according Jim Marchiony, a spokesman for KU Athletics. In fact, the KU Relays this year won't have any professional athletes. Marchiony said the decision was made for budgetary reasons. He estimated the Relays previously spent about $200,000 a year related to bringing in professional athletes to compete.

"It is a significant amount of money," Marchiony said. "It speaks to fiscal responsibility."

KU Athletics has an annual budget of about $70 million, Marchiony said.

Bob Sanner, the sports marketing manager for the Lawrence Convention & Visitors Bureau told me the CVB plans to keep the event alive. But it needs to raise $60,000 in sponsorship money to pay for it. A bulk of that is to pay appearance fees for eight to 10 professional shot putters to compete. The professional athletes have been a big draw to past events. Many times the event featured multiple athletes ranked in the top 10 in the world. Reece Hoffa, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, has been a frequent competitor at the event.

Marchiony said KU's decision to pull out of the downtown event was in no way a reflection of the event. He said the shot put competition was viewed to be a success. He said KU likely will revisit the issue of having professional athletes compete at the Relays in future years. But at the moment, he said budget issues won't allow it.

The timing of KU's decision to cut back on the relays likely will create some questions. KU is making a major investment in its track and field program, but so too are city taxpayers. The new Rock Chalk Park sports complex will include a world-class track and field stadium, among other facilities. In case you have forgotten, the city is paying for more than $10 million worth of roads, parking lots, sewer lines and other infrastructure to support the track and field stadiums and the other facilities.

It is a bit difficult to put into context the amount of financial incentive city taxpayers are providing to the project because certainly some of the infrastructure being built at Rock Chalk Park will support the city's new recreation center at Rock Chalk Park. But there is an incentive being provided to KU. When the project was first proposed, it was projected that the city and the university (and its private partner Bliss Sports) would somehow split the costs for the infrastructure needed at the park.

But when the final development agreements were signed, city taxpayers had agreed to pay for about $10 million in infrastructure costs, Bill Self's charitable foundation had agreed to pay for up to $2 million in infrastructure costs, and KU and its private partner are not expected to pay for any of the roads, sewers and other infrastructure needed to support the track and field stadium and other facilities.

On Friday, Marchiony said taxpayer support for the track and field stadium shouldn't be a factor in the athletics department deciding whether to support the downtown event.

"I don't see a connection," Marchiony said. "I think Rock Chalk Park will be a tremendous facility that for years will benefit the Lawrence community and the area. That will happen."

As for the downtown event, Sanner is approaching private businesses and other groups to provide the funding for the event. He said he has raised about $30,000 so far. He doesn't plan to ask the city of Lawrence to donate money to the event. The city, however, as it has done in past years is being asked to donate its time to set up and tear down the shot put venue.

If approved, the event would take place on April 18, which is the Friday of the Kansas Relays, but the event would not be an official part of the Relays.

• While we're on the topic of incentives, it looks like city commissioners will have another request for a property tax break to consider. This one is still developing, but there is word that the large multistory apartment complex proposed for a site across the street from KU's Memorial Stadium has an interest in a property tax rebate.

An application hasn't yet been filed, but City Manager David Corliss said the Chicago-based development group has indicated it will seek a 95 percent property tax rebate through the Neighborhood Revitalization Act. In the meantime, the rezoning for the project, which will include a five-story building with about 175 apartments and some retail space, will be up for approval at Tuesday's City Commission meeting.

When the tax rebate request comes, commissioners will have an interesting decision to make. The city is poised to give tax incentives to an apartment project — the one at Ninth and New Hampshire mentioned above. But that is in downtown, and the idea of bringing new residents to downtown has been a big part of that incentive request.

Whether the city wants to start offering tax incentives for apartment projects in other parts of the community will be an interesting discussion.

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  • Comments

    Wayne Kerr 4 years, 2 months ago

    Having a total monopoly on commercial real estate downtown and on the apartment buildings in Lawrence isn't enough for some people. No, some people need a twenty year vacation from paying any new taxes on their new real estate projects. They also need a special tax district to further line their deep pockets. It would be great if we could all be free from paying any new taxes and if we could all have our own tax district to pay for the things we can't afford ourselves. But if you're wanting to join the real estate game in Lawrence you'll soon learn that the normal rules don't apply to everyone and a select few already have all the cards that read "get out of paying any new taxes" and "get out of paying for it with your own money". Doug, you win, I guess we'll all just have to pay more in taxes so you don't have to.

    Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

    Thank city commissioners for preferential tax subsidies. They did NOT have to vote yes. All fingers are pointing at the city commission.

    Think about this at election time when we all will hear how important it is to vote in local business people to manage OUR tax dollars. Thus far it has NOT worked out well for the majority over the past 30 years.

    Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 2 months ago

    According to research done by the KU Small Business Development Center, Lawrence has lost 874 jobs over the past 10 years:

    Lawrence, KS (-874) -1.48%
    Iowa City, IA +5,968 +7.28%
    Columbia, MO +8,081 +9.53%
    Manhattan, KS +6,992 +14.61%

    As we recently saw from the resignation of Greg Williams due to his wife's inability to obtain employment in Lawrence - our economic development policy is fundamentally broken.

    We've spent $millions$ of dollars on economic development over the past 10 years with extremely poor results.

    It is time we re-think our approach to this issue and focus on promoting entrepreneurship, growing locally owned businesses and putting in infrastructure that makes our community a better, more attractive place to live. We need to be building parks, bike paths, public art, walkable neighborhoods.

    We should also develop a local center for entrepreneurship similar to Kauffman Labs or BetaBlox in Kansas City. If we want to compete in the information economy, entrepreneurship is essential.

    Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 2 months ago

    For folks interested in the startup community here in Lawrence, take a walk over to the Startup Lawrence Facebook page.

    Greg DiVilbiss 4 years, 2 months ago

    Compton said he's willing to provide up to $20,000 to split the existing wall into sections and have it moved to another location.

    " TIF is a method to use future gains in taxes to subsidize current improvements, which are projected to create the conditions for said gains. The completion of a public or private project often results in an increase in the value of surrounding real estate, which generates additional tax revenue. Sales-tax revenue may also increase, and jobs may be added, although these factors and their multipliers usually do not influence the structure of TIF".

    People talk about wanting to save downtown...I can't think of a better way then to increase residential density and do infill development - Smart Growth principles in action.

    If you really want to help downtown, more people living there will increase the amount of dollars spent in the area. It will allow for more services, catering to the people moving to the area providing better opportunities for more than bars and restaurants...

    Wayne Kerr 4 years, 2 months ago

    Downtown Lawrence isn't a TIF district or shouldn't be if it is one. It has some of the highest real estate prices in the state and no one should need any financial help to develop property there. Adding more apartments does not equal more shoppers downtown. People need good jobs to be able to support downtown business, not more apartments. We are wasting our tax incentives making a very valuable commercial property even more profitable for a developer who already has a total fix on real estate in our town. He doesn't need the cities financial help as he's already got an almost total domination of the commercial and rental market in Lawrence as it is.

    Joshua Montgomery 4 years, 2 months ago


    Respectfully, I disagree. Since you are a real estate developer I can see how you might have this opinion, but TIF districts and tax abatements are simply spending through the tax code. These funds are no more Doug Compton's to spend than the property taxes on my home are mine to spend.

    If the City is going to spend $4 Million on economic development, they should do what they did with my recent Wicked Fiber economic development request.....put it up as an RFI to see who else is interested in this funding.

    There are lots of alternative ways that we can spend this money to create jobs in our community. Spending it with the richest man in town, a man who seldom (if ever) re-invests in other Lawrence businesses, is by far the worst way we can spend it.

    Put this $4 Million on the expenditure side of the books and have Mr. Compton bid for it along with other entrepreneurs and community development agencies. If Doug's idea is the best use of funds, it will win and the City will cut him a check. If not, someone else with a better idea will take the money and invest it to create jobs, train workers or promote entrepreneurship.

    If Doug wants to build a building - great. Unless it has concrete benefits for our community (expanding Internet access,facilitating entrepreneurship, job training, facilitating capital access), have him build it with his own money.

    Greg DiVilbiss 4 years, 2 months ago

    I am not at all saying that this project deserves a TIF, I am also not saying it does not need one.

    Joshua yes we are developers. Up to this point we have never asked for, nor received any subsidy through the use of TIF or TDD's.

    What I am saying is that a TIF program has a cost/benefit. Going through the process of attaining a TIF should determine whether or not the benefit to the Taxpayers brings enough gains to warrant providing infrastructure improvements in the area to allow this development which is what TIF money is used for.

    Here is a link to from Shawnee describing TIF in Kansas... http://gsh.cityofshawnee.org/pdf/finance/economic_ks_tif_book.pdf

    This article was from 2006.

    Having people live downtown in greater numbers with higher density can revitalize the area. I would agree that Doug certainly is not doing this solely for the public benefit. Never the less there will be a public benefit.

    There are times, especially doing infill development that utilizing public funds to help pay for infrastructure makes sense for the community.

    Richard Heckler 4 years, 2 months ago

    Corporate Welfare Grows to $154 Billion even in Midst of Major Government Cuts

    WASHINGTON — Lobbying for special tax treatment produced a spectacular return for Whirlpool Corp., courtesy of Congress and those who pay the bills, the American taxpayers. By investing just $1.8 million over two years in payments for Washington lobbyists, Whirlpool secured the renewal of lucrative energy tax credits for making high-efficiency appliances that it estimates will be worth a combined $120 million for 2012 and 2013. Such breaks have helped the company keep its total tax expenses below zero in recent years.

    The return on that lobbying investment: about 6,700 percent.

    These are the sort of returns that have attracted growing swarms of corporate tax lobbyists to the Capitol over the last decade — the sorts of payoffs typically reserved for gamblers and gold miners. Even as Congress says it is digging for every penny of savings, lobbyists are anything but sequestered; they are ratcheting up their efforts to protect and even increase their clients’ tax breaks.

    The Senate approved tax benefits for Whirlpool and a host of other corporations early on New Year’s Day, a couple of hours after the ball dropped over Times Square and champagne corks began popping. A smorgasbord of 43 business and energy tax breaks, collectively worth $67 billion this year, was packed into the emergency tax legislation that avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff.’’


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