Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mission voters seem to favor a new direction, elect Steve Schowengerdt mayor

Posted By on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 2:38 PM

click to enlarge Steve Schowengerdt becomes Mission's mayor on April 16. - FACEBOOK
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  • Steve Schowengerdt becomes Mission's mayor on April 16.
Steve Schowengerdt edged out current Mission City Council President David Shepard in a close election Tuesday to replace outgoing Mayor Laura McConwell.

Schowengerdt, who served on the Mission City Council until four years ago, ran on a fiscal belt-tightening platform in contrast to Shepard, who was seen as closely aligned with McConwell's mayoral agenda.

Only 19 votes separated the mayoral candidates in an election where 1,705 votes were cast.

Schowengerdt says the outcome reflects a change in direction for municipal politics in Mission, an inner ring suburb that's had difficulty getting some economic development projects going and is in the midst of an overhaul of Johnson Drive that has made the city's main strip almost impossible to drive.

"I really do think there were so many misconceptions and misinformation (during the campaign) like, I wasn't going to fix the streets or spend any money. That's not true," Schowengerdt tells The Pitch. "Infrastructure, of course, you want to keep it up. I don't want to spend foolishly, that's all. Some of the projects, there was some wasted money."

The mayor-elect also seemed to sound some impatience with the evermore stalled Mission Gateway project, the site of the old Mission Mall that's supposed to become a aquarium, office park, hotel, Walmart-anchored retail development at Johnson Drive and Shawnee Mission Parkway.

"Something has to be done," Schowengerdt says. "We don't own the property, but we have an investment in it. At least $12 million. He needs to do something. It's a prime piece of property. It needs to be developed."

The $12 million he refers to is the amount of money the city spent to fix stormwater drainage issues to get the site prepped for redevelopment. The "he" Schowengerdt refers to is Tom Valenti, the New York developer with the Cameron Group who hasn't been able to get construction meaningfully started at Mission Gateway since gaining control of the property in 2005. The city is supposed to be reimbursed for the $12 million investment, but the city has also agreed to form a community improvement district at Mission Gateway that would redirect an increase in sales taxes back into project costs.

The last we knew, the Cameron Group said on its website that Mission Gateway would open in 2016. Shortly after we published a story to that effect, the Cameron Group changed the date to 2015, although Valenti later told a crowd in Mission that he was through making promises about his progress. (One such pledge was this one, caught on video, from 2011 where he seemed to mock criticisms of his long-in-the-tooth development of Mission Gateway. "Six years, it's not that bad," he said, adding that Mission Gateway won't take him 16 years to finish like one of his other developments.)

"Too many times, I've made the mistake of being overly optimistic," Valenti told a breakfast gathering in Mission a couple of weeks ago, according to a report in the Kansas City Business Journal. "And I've lost my credibility because of that."

At least he's right about that.

Mission had planned to issue more than $30 million in bonds, repaid in part by increased sales taxes in the Mission Gateway community improvement district. Schowengerdt says he's not a fan of tax incentives for private ventures.

"We don't give our existing businesses tax incentives," Schowengert says. "It doesn't make it a fair playing field."

He also isn't fond of Mission's so-called "driveway tax," which is actually a transportation fee charged to homeowners and businesses. The hit ranges from less than $100 for most homeowners to five figures for some businesses. Schowengert can't repeal it on his own; Mission's mayor only votes to break a tie on the City Council. But he may well push the matter.

He takes office April 16. It will end McConwell's 12-year run as the city's mayor. She decided not to run for another term, and later decided to explore the possibility of running for the Johnson County Board of Commissioners.



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