Price Development Group, which is based in Overland Park, owns an empty building at the corner of State Line Road and West 39th Street. The last occupant was a restaurant chain, Qdoba Mexican Grill. Before that, it was a French bistro. Before that, a Pizza Hut.
Plywood covered the windows of the building when Price Development bought it in 2007. Today, the boards may be the only things worth salvaging. A leaking roof and a missing chimney pipe let in rainfall. Black mold covers the walls.
Price Development wants to flatten the building and carry it away in water-damaged pieces. Preservationists won’t make a sound. The structure was built in 1978, a dark time, architecturally speaking.
In its place, Price Development wants to construct a four-story apartment building with retail on the ground floor. The design of the building would obscure a 96-space parking garage.
The project, which has neighborhood support, sounds worthwhile. But there’s a catch. The public has to provide assistance. The developer is asking for a tax break worth $2.76 million.
The City Council will be told that the project won’t work without the incentives. Yes, West 39th Street is vibrant with restaurants. Across the state line, the University of Kansas Hospital is expanding.
The developer concedes that the failed Qdoba sits on a valuable piece of land. But here’s where the proposal begins to look like blackmail.
“Sure, it’s an attractive piece of property for development for lots of different uses,” Aaron March, an attorney working for Price Development, tells The Pitch. “But if we were just in it for the money, we would sell it to McDonald’s or QuikTrip. But we’re not.”
In other words, the city can grant the tax break or it can expect the next proposal to feature gas pumps or a drive-through window. Which will it be?
Three years ago, the answer was “no tax break.”
In 2008, Price Development asked a city agency, the Planned Industrial Expansion Authority, to determine whether the site was blighted, a necessary condition for the tax abatement. The developer’s timing was bad. Former Mayor Mark Funkhouser, a critic of the way tax incentives have been used to remake Kansas City, had made new appointments to the agency’s board shortly before Price Development’s plan came up for consideration.
Now that Funkhouser is out of the picture, developers are feeling more confident about their chances at City Hall and its related agencies. March spoke of “a feeling of optimism in Kansas City” when he discussed the 39th Street development with The Kansas City Star’s Kevin Collison in the spring.
March tells The Pitch that Price Development officials want to do something special and unique for the neighborhood. A member of the family who owns the business lives in the area, he adds.
But there are limits to the generosity. March says the development of a “significant project” at the site won’t produce an adequate return. A third party ran the numbers for the city and came to the same conclusion.
“You can’t build this project as a market-rate project,” March says. “You can’t do much more on this small site, other than a McDonald’s or a convenience store, and have it make economic sense.”
Again with the Happy Meal threat!
March concedes that 39th Street West is a hip area. But “happening” is not the same as “lucrative.” Rents are low. “There really hasn’t been any new investment along 39th Street in quite a while, on the Missouri side,” March says.
So what will you have, Kansas City, a spiffy new apartment building or a McFlurry? “If you’d rather have a convenience store or a gas station or a fast-food restaurant,” March says, “then don’t give the incentives."