City Hall hands out tax breaks to developers who promise lots of good jobs. But the payrolls are looking mighty slim.

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City Hall hands out tax breaks to developers who promise lots of good jobs. But the payrolls are looking mighty slim.

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In 2005, a proposal to build a new shopping center where Antioch Center stands came before the TIF Commission. The schools opposed the TIF request, as did representatives from Clay County and other taxing jurisdictions. But with the political appointees in the majority, the proposal went to City Council with the TIF Commission's recommendation. The council approved the project, which provides a $24 million subsidy for the developers.

The plan, incidentally, promises to create 517 jobs.

"Maniac," the song from the movie Flashdance, is blaring at Dick's Sporting Goods, reminding shoppers of synthesizers and leg warmers. The store at Zona Rosa is large enough to require escalators. Seemingly every brand of golf club and fishing rod is on display and reasonably priced.

Tim and Shannon Cunningham, a couple from Holt, Missouri, leave Dick's with their hands full. She found a pair of turquoise Crocs she liked, and he grabbed a beverage cooler from a sale rack.

The Cunninghams used to shop at the Dick's at Barry Towne, a center near U.S. 169 and Barry Road. The Dick's at Barry Towne closed after Zona Rosa opened in 2004. The new Dick's adds four miles to the Cunninghams' drive — a fair distance to go for the pleasure of shopping at Zona Rosa, a "lifestyle center" with more stores, restaurants and flourishes (like red phone booths) than a dull big-box center like Barry Towne.

"It's more convenient because there are other shops around," Shannon says before she and her husband toss their merchandise in their truck and go exploring.

By moving from Barry Towne to Zona Rosa, Dick's Sporting Goods — a national chain of 250 stores — jumped from one city-assisted project to another. Barry Towne is a TIF project, while the city issued tax-exempt bonds to help pay for roadwork around Zona Rosa.

The city created the Barry Towne TIF in 1996. The main attraction is a Target store. Most of the taxes captured by the TIF pay for road and bridge expansion.

Mindful that building a Target and a Kohl's on pastureland hardly represented cutting-edge economic development, city officials reduced the depth and the length of the TIF payouts.

Still, in City Auditor White's report on TIF, Barry Towne came out as one of the real duds. The audit showed that the project is generating $24 million less than original projections.

The project cost $292 million and was supposed to create 3,900 jobs. But according to paperwork filed with the state, it has added only 1,749 jobs.

In 2001, the city extended the life of the TIF to give the developer, MD Management, a better chance to recoup its investment. The extension means the city will have to wait an additional eight years before the development pays full taxes.

MD Management owns Metro North Shopping Center and other properties along Barry Road. It's possible that Barry Towne will reach its original goal of 3,900 jobs. The most recent development plan calls for more retail and the construction of six office buildings.

But Dick's' departure after just five years at Barry Towne seems an ominous sign. A new tenant has yet to fill the space left since the sporting goods were packed in trucks and moved four miles down the road.

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