How Kansas City Over-Subsidized Downtown
In a Next City feature, Sandy Smith tells the story of a desolate downtown and a plan to partner with big developers to make it a place worth visiting.
In 2006, Kansas City issued close to $300 million in bonds to help Cordish Companies build an entertainment district. "Occupying an entire city block with restaurants, bars, nightspots and shops, KC Live [...] would have been unimaginable in Kansas City 15 years ago."
Two years later, the recession hit. Without expected tax revenues, city officials realized they had made a bad bargain. "Kansas City Mayor Sly James has since said that City Hall won't again make deals like the one it made with Cordish, yet the city remains beholden to the agreement in ways that are still emerging."
Smith writes, "But at what point should cities make this decision to stop subsidizing for-profit development? And how do they know when enough is enough? That's the question being asked in Kansas City and in cities around the nation as downtowns bounce back from years of abandonment only to find that developers still expect the aid they were receiving when downtowns were far less profitable places to be."
Part of the problem is historical: "'Urban leaders still tend to overpay for development because they internalized low civic self-esteem bred by decades of being told they were too polluted, too dangerous, or too school-deficient to attract investment,' says Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First [...]"
Cities can reap great benefits from redeveloped downtowns. "But in a moment of increasing urban inequality and shrinking government coffers, is it government's job to subsidize amenities for people renting apartments in high-end towers?"