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Richard Ringer drives a Ford Explorer over gravel. The rough road causes his Ozarka water bottle to bang against the mobile-phone cradle bolted to the cup holder.
Ringer has veered off Parvin Road onto land owned by Hunt Midwest, a real-estate and mining company owned by the family of Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt. A California native, Ringer has worked for Hunt Midwest for 14years. His office is inside SubTropolis, an underground city scooped out of a limestone mine. Now, nearly 1,400 people work there, handling coffee beans, film canisters and postage stamps in stable humidity.
Ringer is driving over the ground above SubTropolis, with the Mamba roller coaster at Worlds of Fun in the distance. Ringer has taken his vehicle off-road to illustrate the difficulty of developing the rugged ground east of the amusement park. The constant jostling makes his point.
The city approved Hunt Midwest's plan in 2000 to improve the mine surface. TIF money has paid to extend Parvin Road and build a new cross street, Kentucky Avenue. Hunt Midwest put up a business center along Kentucky where 100 people work. On the west side of Interstate 435, townhomes are springing up around cul-de-sacs built on top of a former ditch.
"Without the TIF, none of the projects would work," Ringer says.
The Parvin Road TIF plan was expected to create 7,367 new jobs within 10 years. After seven years, though, the plan is nowhere near its goal.
Records filed with the state indicate that it has brought in just 240 new jobs, 7,127 jobs short of the projection.
Ringer admits that the plan is behind schedule. "We're not where we want to be, but we're way ahead of where we'd be without it," he says, it meaning the TIF.
The Hunt Midwest plan, which covers more than 1,000 acres, reached into the isolated community of Minneville. A bustling rail stop in the 19th century, Minneville had only a couple of dozen homes when Hunt Midwest looked to expand in its direction.
The company wants to enlarge North Arlington Avenue, Minneville's main thoroughfare, and connect it with Parvin Road. The plan required buyouts of several homeowners. The houses are gone, but Arlington Avenue is the same as it has always been.
While he acknowledges the slow progress, Ringer makes no apologies. He notes that Hunt Midwest — not the city — paid for the roads that have been finished. The company hopes to recoup most of its investment from TIF reimbursements.
"For the public, no harm, no foul," says Hunt Midwest President Lee Derrough. "They've got no skin in the game."
TIF believers argue that it's harmless because it uses public money that didn't exist before a given TIF deal. But often the development doesn't create new business as much as steal it.
Michael Block represents the owners of Executive Park, an industrial park near the Parvin Road TIF plan. Block says he's pro-development. But he worries that what may be good for Hunt Midwest may be bad for him.
"It does make it hard to compete because they don't have to pay as much for their buildings and they can charge lower rents," Block tells the Pitch.
Block suggests that the city needs to be more discerning about the difference between development that needs to happen and development that simply can happen. In his view, the Costco/Home Depot project in midtown had social value and was justified.
He's less certain that Hunt Midwest needed a helping hand to spruce up land it has owned since the 1960s. "Does it [the development] need to be there?" Block asks. "Are there disadvantaged people in that area?"