Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reminder: The Citadel project is still costing Kansas Citians money

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 1:48 PM

click to enlarge Millions in taxpayer money has gotten Kansas City this development.
  • Millions in taxpayer money has gotten Kansas City this development.
Crosby Kemper III sent a letter last year to Tax Increment Financing Commission appointees and Kansas City, Missouri, City Council members that, among other things, invited its recipients to take a tour with him of the infamous, failed Citadel project.

To date, no one has taken the Kansas City Public Library CEO up on his offer.

And without Kemper-led walking tours of the development disaster at 63rd Street and Prospect, virtually no one treads the empty, still-toxic ground that for years was supposed to become a shopping center. But despite its legacy as one of the worst scandals in city history, the barren site still draws Kansas City taxpayer money as though it were a thriving, incentive-fueled development.

Last week, the TIF Commission gave a thumbs-up for the city to solicit bids for an environmental-remediation contract for the Citadel site.

Workers have been trying to clean up the site ever since the initial developers, the Community Development Corporation of Kansas City, buried asbestos there. Much of the dangerous material has been removed, but some loose fibers remain in the soil as a lasting reminder of an unrealized project and the lengths to which city officials would go to spur development on the city's East Side.

The city was ready to advance the developers $20 million in 2008, an almost unprecedented move even for a city that historically is keen on cutting developers favorable deals at the expense of taxpayers. Bean counters and City Hall hatched all kinds of unconventional schemes to funnel money to the CDCKC beyond simple tax-increment financing. Among the ideas: raiding the budget meant for Kansas City International Airport and looting the Public Improvements Advisory Committee funds, which are earmarked for smaller neighborhood-type projects.

But the CDCKC's leaders - William Threatt and Anthony Crompton - couldn't get their act together and operated on the fringes of the law. They didn't honor contracts with property owners and didn't meet deadlines, even as they insisted that they couldn't build at Citadel until the city coughed up more money.

Sources have told The Pitch that the FBI quizzed people involved with the Citadel about how the CDCKC spent federal dollars allocated to the project. The feds eventually settled for popping Threatt and Crompton on charges of contaminating the land with asbestos.

Despite all that, Kansas City managed to get itself sued by the CDCKC. The city settled the lawsuit with a $15 million payout.

City officials said publicly that Threatt and other CDCKC leaders would not touch the settlement money. But that turned out to be another in a series of untruths expressed over the life of the Citadel. Arvest Bank sued Threatt and CDCKC treasurer Donald Lee in 2012 for pocketing and spending settlement funds. That lawsuit is ongoing, with a federal judge recently ordering mediation.

Aside from the wrist slap that Threatt and Crompton received in federal court, the Citadel implosion has been mostly a consequence-free affair. CDCKC attorney David Frantze still appears frequently before city-development agencies asking (and usually receiving) incentives for various clients. Heather Brown, a former city attorney whose signature appears on many of the documents pertaining to the Citadel debacle, got a new job two years ago with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, an agency that doles out incentives to development projects.

The latest environmental contract calls for $688,000 in remediation work, with $500,000 coming from an Environmental Protection Agency grant and the remainder getting pulled from city coffers. If the project costs more than the $688,000, the city is on the hook for the overage.

That $188,000 balance is a minuscule part of Kansas City's municipal budget, but it's another cost atop the millions that the city has poured into a toxic dump - more money hurled at an empty field that has already cost millions.



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