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The money and brains behind Briarcliff, a controversial development between U.S. Highway 169 and Missouri Highway 9, Garney is a dauntless individual. He built Briarcliff on top of an abandoned rock quarry. The man who sold him the property said it would cost about $1 million to make the land fit for development. "He was wrong by about a factor of 10," Garney says.
Garney took on the project in 1988, after selling a successful construction company to his employees. ("Guys with shovels in their hands are getting to be millionaires," he says.) Garney has lived in the southwestern pocket of Clay County for almost 50 years. His ambition was to create an upscale development that Johnson County might envy.
"I thought it would be a fun retirement project," he says. "It got to be a lot more than I ever dreamed."
The quarry, Garney discovered, had been sloppily excavated, increasing the costs to stabilize it. He also faced neighborhood opposition and a 1986 change in federal laws that sent office construction into a slump.
Undeterred, Garney began reshaping the property. He built a $5 million interchange just north of the Parkville/Riverside exit. With the market for office space in the dumps, he put up luxury homes, saving the lot with the best view of downtown Kansas City for himself and his wife, Patricia.
In 2000, Garney built his first office building. Now there are three. Last year, a Tuscan-flavored retail strip opened at Briarcliff, bringing Country Club Plaza-style merchants to the Northland.
"This project is a friggin' home run," Garney says.
Not quite. When the city approved the Briarcliff TIF, it was projected to create 5,000 new jobs. The count filed with the state is 563.
Garney disputes the number, saying it doesn't reflect the ever-changing nature of the development. His project manager, Nathaniel Hagedorn, says 1,200 to 1,300 people work in the office buildings alone. Garney says the numbers will continue to grow because more construction is planned.
Garney is 75 years old, but he moves like a man 15 years younger. Without appearing to strain, he climbs a steep hill to reach his house, a 12,500-square-foot number surrounded by flourishing impatiens.
Garney enters his garage and gets behind the wheel of a green Jeep (mileage: 690). He drives out of the residential portion of the development onto Briarcliff Parkway, pointing out wild roses he planted around the interchange. On the east side of U.S. 169, he finds some trees that were saved with a little creativity.
Paying attention to aesthetics helped Garney win the support of the Claymont subdivision. At first, residents opposed the interchange, which joined their neighborhood with raffish Riverside. Garney says the critics are now thrilled with all that's been created between their homes and the Missouri River. "You got a developer with a heart here," he says of himself.
Briarcliff became a source of controversy during the city elections this past spring. In January, Garney asked for what's called a "super TIF" on top of his existing TIF. Garney's representatives said they needed the more potent form of TIF to make the numbers work on a $91 million hotel-and-office complex to be built on a bluff at the south end of the development.
Mark Funkhouser, a frequent TIF critic as city auditor, spoke against the Briarcliff TIF during the mayoral race. Candidate Funkhouser went to City Hall and blasted the request during a meeting of the Finance Committee. The appearance enabled Funkhouser to differentiate himself from three rivals in the race who sat on the committee and voted to approve Garney's plan.