A few years ago, the homes on the south side of Pagán's street in Kansas City, North, met the push of a bulldozer. So did the trees behind the homes, where deer liked to congregate.
The houses and the woods made way for an ambitious project off North Prospect Road, near Maple Woods Community College. The developer's plans called for the construction of homes, apartments, and half a million square feet of retail and office space.
The project, called Renaissance North, aimed for sophistication. A sign on the property promised "contemporary living with classic flair."
Workers built roads, laid sewer pipes, dug basements.
Then the money ran out. Work stopped.
Standing outside the split-level that she shares with her husband, Santos, and two grandsons, Pagán surveys the abandoned site with the aid of thick eyeglasses. Skeptical of the project to begin with, she says she misses the trees and the animals.
"It's a shame that after they tore everything down, it's just going to sit there," she says.
Pagán's view isn't the only thing to be disturbed. The city will spend almost $1 million to service bonds that paid for those roads and sewers running through the unfinished project.
The money to pay the bonds was supposed to come from taxes that the residences, shops and offices would spin off once the project was completed. But sagging silt fences and half-finished homes don't produce any revenue.
Renaissance North was also supposed to create jobs — 889 new ones, according to the developer's projections.
The actual number is zero.
Renaissance North is a disaster by any measure.
But less-obviously dismal economic-development projects have also failed to create the jobs they promised.
In April, Kansas City's acting city auditor, Gary White, released the results of a much-anticipated study showing what sort of return the city was getting on projects assisted by tax-increment financing, or TIF, a tool that lets developers skim some of the taxes produced by their projects. The audit found that in 78 percent of the deals the city had made with developers, revenues fell below projections.
White's audit focused on financial performance. Another performance measure is job creation. Each year, the developers who take advantage of TIF have to report their job numbers to the state of Missouri.
The numbers are not encouraging. One plan missed its job-creation target by 97 percent.
What's interesting about the job data is where the jobs aren't being created. Some of the biggest underperforming deals are in the Northland, a fast-growing and relatively prosperous area unburdened by the poor reputation of the Kansas City, Missouri, School District.
On July 20, Jeff Kaczmarek, the executive director of the Economic Development Corporation — the city-funded agency that administers TIF — showed his board of directors a presentation he had made to the task force that Mayor Mark Funkhouser appointed to study the city's economic-development policy. The presentation amounted to a defense of the way business has been done in Kansas City — which is to say, when in doubt, give the developer what he or she wants.
Kaczmarek put up a slide that showed the Economic Development Corporation's primary objectives. Providing good job opportunities was first on the list.
It's another hot morning in Kansas City. Charles Garney approaches a section of sidewalk soaked by errant water sprinklers. Rather than turn back, Garney presses ahead, swerving into the slick grass in order to avoid a direct hit.