Monday, April 13, 2015

Kansas City’s Mayor Touts Opportunity and Innovation

By Mary Wilson

Kansas City Mayor Sly James delivered his State of the City address to a packed house at Starlight Theater on Tuesday, March 31. According to James, Starlight Theater embodies what is great about Kansas City: parks, arts, partnerships and the assets of the city.

Mayor James began his address thanking those whom he has served alongside for the past year, including sixth district councilman John Sharp, who termed out of office this week.

“Being mayor is undoubtedly the best job in politics, and there is one group that I’m compelled and honored to serve with,” said James. “The members of the council terming out of office deserve our thanks for their outstanding and committed service to Kansas City.”

He also honored the loss of Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich. “I do hope that we can learn something from that tragic circumstance. For instance, that leadership is preferable to politics,” said James. “It is my hope that over the course of the next few months, we’ll have more leaders emerge than politicians.”

According to James, more than ever, Kansas Citians are engaged, thanks to social media and technology. Technology, innovation and planning contribute to the success of the agenda James has followed since taking office in 2012. His focus has been on efficiency, employment, education and enforcement.

“Through focus on these, we strive to make all that we do in Kansas City the best today, tomorrow, and for the generation to come,” said James.

The technology foundation, according to James, continues to pay dividends in improved efficiency in Kansas City. Recently, Kansas City launched its first-ever digital roadmap, setting goals to secure its place as a leading digital city. It also supports Kansas City’s future workforce by addressing digital inclusion and creating a pipeline of home-grown talent.

“It makes Kansas City a smart city,” said James. “We are using that technology to find better efficiencies in the delivery of city services.”

A smart city is a technological framework that could bring things such as interactive kiosks, mobile applications, sensory technology and smart street lighting.

“Kansas City is once again the envy of our peers because we do things like this, drawing deeply from our entrepreneurial spirit and from our technological assets,” said James.

As a result of an open-data ordinance passed last June, data about Kansas City is more readily available to the public than at any time during the history of Kansas City. Information searches that used to mean a trip to city hall are now available online, from anywhere in the world, instantaneously, according to James.

“I believe that open, transparent government is fundamental to an efficient and effective democracy,” said James. “The open-data portal allows for that.”

James added that the opinions of citizens drive cultural shifts that include data-driven performance enhancements to improve city departments. The tool for that is the annual citizen’s satisfaction survey, with the most recent survey results showing significant improvements in sixty-one separate categories.

“City satisfaction with its citizens is at the highest level since the city began its survey in 2005,” said James. “Not many cities can say that. People are noticing the way that we do business in Kansas City.”

The mayor stated that maintaining the city’s streets, bridges, roads and other city infrastructure remains a priority for him. Currently, the city funds nearly $77 million per year for infrastructure services, such as street overlays, snow plowing, striping, signage, maintaining bridges and more.

“I refuse to kick that can down the road and leave our aging infrastructure problems for the next generation,” said James. “We have a backlog of deferred maintenance and my priority is to deal with it.”

According to James, the industry benchmark to fund the improvements Kansas City’s infrastructure needs would cost nearly three-times the allotted annual budget.

“Kansas Citians expect better and we need to do better,” said James.

In June of 2016, Kansas City voters will be asked to renew the Kansas City Earnings Tax. James said that the city has been good stewards of this critical resource by making changes like improved budgeting and fiscal management systems since the last vote.

“We are making budget decisions more closely aligned with citizen input,” said James.

Last February, Mayor James was invited to the White House for the unveiling of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program, which addresses strategies to align opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color.

“As I learned about each of the goals of My Brother’s Keeper, I was struck by the fact that Kansas City is a leader in many of those areas,” said James. “One of the President’s goals, in particular, is close to my heart: reading at grade-level by third grade.”

Turn the Page KC, the mayor’s early childhood reading program, is just one of many of the mayor’s programs focusing on youth in Kansas City. Turn the Page KC was recently recognized by KCPT for the program’s focus on all children reading at grade-level, and the White House invited the program directors to be on a panel to discuss local efforts and strategies to bridge the word gap.

Combined last year, Kansas City Mayor’s Nights served nearly 6,000 basketball, volleyball and soccer athletes ages 10-25. Last summer, Club KC served more than 10,000 Kansas City 12- to 18-year-olds, and youth crime dropped 18% while Club KC was in session.

Another focus of Mayor James has been to narrow the digital divide in Kansas City, and take full advantage of bigger digital pipelines of which Kansas City is becoming known nationally and internationally.

“We must make computers, the internet, and digital literacy training accessible to all,” said James.

James ended his address by stating that gun control regulation needs to be addressed, and that the senseless killing of children in Kansas City simply cannot continue.

“I want to thank Kansas City for giving me what I consider to be an amazing opportunity to serve as your mayor for the past four years,” said James. “I know that I have the best job in politics, and I hope you know that I’ve given you my best each and every day.”

Mayor James said he is proud to be mayor of a city that is reinventing itself.

“Flyover country no more, Kansas City is the center of the American renaissance,” said James. “We are the city that other cities look to for ideas. The state of our city is full of opportunity, and I assure you I’ll continue to seize each and every one with your help and support.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

Grandview’s Liability Decreases as a Result of Truman’s Marketplace TIF

By Mary Wilson

The Grandview Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the second amended Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan for Truman’s Marketplace on Tuesday, March 24. Because the City of Grandview is backing bonds with its general fund appropriation authority, the liability to the city has decreased significantly.

According to Assistant City Administrator Kirk Decker, Grandview’s credit enhancement helps reduce the interest rate of the bonds, as bondholders have security that the city would supplement any debt service shortfall with an appropriation from its general fund. 

“Both of these numbers are the worst case scenario; that is, the entire project failed and no businesses produced any PILOTS (property tax increments) or EATS (sales tax increments),” said Decker.

In the original agreement, Grandview’s maximum potential debt service payment was $5.3 million.  In the second amended agreement, the City’s maximum liability is $425,000.  This liability is also lessened because the city’s general fund appropriation obligation is secured by a Community Improvement District (CID) assessment on the property within the district ($1.00 per square foot), rather than PILOTS or EATS associated with new businesses.

“Overall, it was a 92% decrease in liability and the bonds are backed by the most reliable revenue stream,” said Decker. “So, even though the project took longer than anticipated, the passage of time has been to the City’s, and subsequently its taxpayers’, advantage.”

The city will also receive a $125,000 payment semi-annually through the TIF due to additional costs, which was designed to off-set the costs that have been incurring due to the lack of development in the shopping center. These funds will continue to accrue on a sliding scale until stores open that produce $12.5 million annually in sales.

“At that point, that payment goes away,” said Joe Lauber, special counsel to the City of Grandview. “The developer worked really well with us in order to get that taken care of, and we’re appreciative of that.”

It was recommended to the board that they allow the developer to complete the purchase of the Truman Corners property after the approval of the amended bond documents, but within three days of the preliminary offering statements are mailed for the purposes of marketing the bonds.

“When they will actually purchase the shopping center will occur in a window,” said Lauber. “We think that this provision ends up being a good compromise and allows the developer and its bank the maximum flexibility that they can have high confidence that the public side of financing is going forward, but it also allows for the reality that the bond market may not look favorably at that timing.”

According to Lauber, the closing on the property has been the hardest piece of the Truman’s Marketplace puzzle to put together. Once the developer has purchased the property, a ground-breaking ceremony will take place and construction will begin.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Grandview Pulls Breed-specific Ban on Pit Bulls

Geoff Hall, President of Wayside Waifs, celebrates Grandview’s decision to repeal the breed-specific ban with a pit bull puppy available for adoption. Effective immediately, Wayside Waifs is now able to adopt pit bulls to those living in the Grandview city limits. Visit to see all of the animals looking for homes.


By Mary Wilson

After several months of discussion and education, the Grandview Board of Aldermen unanimously approved the repeal of the breed-specific ban on pit bulls in city limits. The ban was adopted by the aldermen on July 26, 2005, at a time when the city was dealing with pit bull dogs being bred and trained to participate in dog fighting, with the fights occurring out in the open within city limits. Due to the inherent aggressive behavior of the animals, the breed-specific ban was put in place.

When the ban was enacted, pit bulls living within city limits were required to be registered as dangerous animals and owners were to pay for an annual permit, inspection, insurance policy, specific housing arrangements and follow restrictions when kept or brought outside. At the time, approximately twenty pit bulls were registered that were known to be living in the city.

“After comparing Grandview with what surrounding cities around us have done, we’ve been able to fix the holes when it comes to dangerous animals in general, to where all citizens are protected as well as the animals,” said Ward 3 Alderman John Maloney. “We are looking to our neighbors to see their best practices.”

Community Development Director Chris Chiodini and his staff looked at neighboring Missouri communities, and found that some cities continue to have the breed-specific ban in place. Grandview chose to pull the ban, and in order for an animal to be deemed dangerous, the actions of the animal would have to be determined to be a threat to the community as a whole.

“It’s the actions of the animal only, and has nothing to do with the breed of the animal itself,” said Chiodini. “We had to tighten up the ordinance and make sure that in doing so, we continue to protect not just people, but the animals themselves.”

The ordinance approved last week removes any breed-specific legislation, and made necessary changes so that the information on the requirements for animals of any breed or kind deemed dangerous is easy to read.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Aldermen Approve Truman’s Marketplace TIF Plan

RED Legacy Aims for April 3 Groundbreaking

By Mary Wilson

On Tuesday, March 3, the Grandview Board of Aldermen gave the final approval on the second amended and restated Truman’s Marketplace Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Redevelopment Plan. A week earlier, the final public hearing for the TIF plan was heard, and the aldermen moved to postpone the final vote until their next meeting, in order to comply with giving a ten days’ notice.

As previously reported, the major component of the redevelopment effort has changed from a reconstruction to primarily a remodel of existing structures. Managing Partner of RED Legacy, Bart Lowen, presented the aldermen with elevation visuals as well as an explanation of what RED will be remodeling and how it will look when completed.

“One question we wanted to address is where we’re at with our tenants,” said Lowen. “Time kills deals, and that is the case in some cases, but we’re happy to tell you that, through this entire effort, of the approximately eighty-percent of the tenants that we had in lease in the former plan, all but one is moving forward with us. So, roughly seventy-five percent of the tenants in this project are still there today.”

Lowen added that his team has been working with those tenants to incorporate their businesses into the new site plan. RED will work with them to amend the signed leases to provide for the changes to the shopping center. Some were shifted or moved to accommodate the remodel effort.

“Burlington, for instance, is now on the south end of the site,” said Lowen. “We had to move them into an existing location.”

Of those seventy-five percent of tenants, Lowen said half of them have signed amended leases. One major tenant RED is still working with to sign an amended lease is Price Chopper, yet Lowen was confident that the grocer remains committed to the project. When the lease with Price Chopper is executed, RED will be well into the sixty-percent leased capacity range on the project for tenants.

Security has been an issue that’s remained prevalent in the plans for the shopping center, and Lowen stated that a good security program remains intact with the amended plan. There will be security cameras on the buildings as well as in parking areas. There will also be a patrolling effort during business hours. Along with the security efforts, shoppers will see new parking lots, upgraded landscaping, and a new street that will run through the project with lighting and upgraded facades.

“It just creates an atmosphere that is a little bit more of an uplifting atmosphere that really helps to add to the security effort of the project,” said Lowen.

The elevation and look of the project has remained fairly constant, even with the changes from redevelopment to remodel. RED has made some tweaks and changes to the look of some buildings to accommodate the remodel effort, but the walkable environment the aldermen were looking for in the beginning has remained the focus.

“All the buildings remain; it’s just a façade renovation,” said Lowen. “This project right now is very flat, and we’ll start to create and add some character into the plan. We’ll be applying quite a bit of materials to the existing walls in order to create the façade upgrade the project will receive. This clearly is well more than a can of paint.”

Moving forward, RED will wait for the Grandview Board of Aldermen to approve the Paramaters Bond Ordinance and Bond Documents on March 24, and will then move forward with the purchase of the shopping center two days later on March 26. RED is prepared for a groundbreaking event to occur on Friday, April 3, provided everything in the next month goes smoothly.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Grandview Lowers Graduation Credit Requirement

by Mary Wilson

The Grandview School Board, at their meeting on Thursday, February 19, voted to approve a new graduation credit requirement. In 2001, the board approved raising the Grandview standard from 26 credits to 28.

“We are doing this in part of a review of all district areas to create better efficiency and look at things that have a financial impact on the district,” said Superintendent Dr. Ralph Teran. “Our current configuration, approved in 2001, was to go to the eight-block schedule and correspondingly increase the credits required to graduate.”

According to Teran, the eight-block schedule seemed to hit strides nationally in the 1990s. He added that block scheduling or a regular seven-period daily schedule seems to show no impact on student achievement.

“The block schedule costs more money,” said Teran. “It is more expensive to run the schedule that we have, and since there appears to be no correlation with student achievement. Sometimes more expensive things may be worth it, and I’m not saying it’s wrong to have block scheduling. It is a value judgment.”

Teran stated that the 28 credit requirement binds the school district to the block schedule, and if any other option is considered the requirement needs to be lowered. Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Kenny Rodrequez provided the board with a snapshot of what other districts require for graduation credits, and whether or not they have block scheduling.

“As far as we’ve been able to find in our area, we are one of three districts in our area that require 28 credits,” said Rodrequez. “The other two are Grain Valley and Park Hill. Other than that, most other districts hover around 25 or 26.”

Rodrequez added that the move from 28 to 26 credit hours required could open the opportunity for students to take additional dual-credit courses, as well as provide an opportunity to ensure that more students graduate on time.

“This could provide more opportunities for remediation that maybe the 28 doesn’t provide us with,” said Rodrequez.

Lowering the credit requirement will reduce the amount of electives students are able to take over their high school career, and according to Rodrequez, will not reduce the rigor.

“We have, in my opinion, one of the most rigorous requirements in the area,” said Rodrequez. “We require four credits of math, which is an anomaly in most of the surrounding areas. There are very, very few districts that require that.”

Grandview students are specifically required to pass through Algebra II in order to graduate, and are also required to take chemistry. Rodrequez said the rigor will come from the courses required, not from the amount of credits the students take.

He added that Grandview will soon be able to support an online-learning requirement, where at least one course would have to be taken in a virtual environment. This would be implemented over a period of time, and would be separate from the required credits and separate from the daily courses.

Ultimately, the board approved unanimously to approve lowering the graduation credit requirements from 28 to 26, beginning with the class of 2016.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

TIF Commission Passes Truman’s Marketplace 2nd Amended Plan

Once Approved by Aldermen, Projected Completion of Project to be Fall of 2016

By Mary Wilson

Grandview’s Tax Increment Financing Commission held a public hearing to hear the second amended plan for the proposed Truman’s Marketplace shopping center, formerly Truman Corners, on Wednesday, February 11. Joe Lauber, of Lauber Municipal Law, presented the proposed second amendment on behalf of the City of Grandview. Lauber represents the City as their special economic development legal counsel, and in that role he also serves as the legal counsel to the TIF Commission.

The purpose of the hearing was to hear public testimony on the proposed amendment to the Truman’s Marketplace TIF Redevelopment Plan. The original version of the plan was recommended for approval by the TIF Commission on December 14, 2011, and consequently approved by the Board of Aldermen on February 7, 2012. After the original plan was approved, some difficulties arose in obtaining the proper financing terms for the project due to the timing of the necessary acquisition of the shopping center property.

“As a result of that, the developer filed an amendment to the original plan in August of 2013 to address a solution to that issue,” said Lauber.

The first amendment to the plan was recommended for approval by the TIF Commission on September 11, 2013, and approved by the Board of Aldermen on July 1, 2014. According to Lauber, as the city and developer teams worked together on the financing of the first amended plan, additional difficulties with respect to the financing of the project and control of portions of the redevelopment area came to light.

“For this reason, the developer submitted another proposed amendment to the redevelopment plan on January 16, 2015,” said Lauber. “TIF plans are just that: they’re plans. They are made up of projections and estimates of how the developer and the city hope the development project will go. Many times, however, when the plan is implemented, the facts related to the redevelopment project cause a need to change the plans.”

The city’s goal with the project is to remediate blighted conditions through a comprehensive renovation of a woefully outdated and underperforming shopping center that serves as a front door to Grandview, according to Lauber. The city has selected RED Legacy, the developer, to implement the plan. Lauber stated that the goal has not changed from the original adopted plan.

“Some of the details of how this is expected to be accomplished have changed,” said Lauber.

The second amended plan changes are as follows:

• The developer will buy the shopping center using private sources of funds when bond documents are substantially complete and a bond parameters ordinance is adopted, prior to bond issuance.

• There will be minimal demolition, the project will consist primarily of remodeling exisiting structures.

• The total project cost decreased from $87,672,000 to $75,666,486, or 13.7% less.

• The developer’s portion of financing the project will be 31.4% if subordinate debt is paid back, or 38.9% if subordinate debt is not paid back. The public financing portion will be 44.69% if subordinate debt is paid back, or 37.4% if subordinate debt is not paid back. The rest will fall under third-party financing.

• The first amended plan had the developer’s return on investment at 12.69%, with the second amended plan showing the developer’s return at 9.91-11.51%.

• The first amended plan broke the project into thirteen different redevelopment projects. The new plan has four redevelopment projects, with RED Legacy completing projects 2 and 3.

• Initial financing will be private for acquisition of the shopping center, and includes city-backed TIF bonds that are taxable special-assessment bonds only and TIF revenue bonds.

• $34,000,000 in bonds has been requested for the project, with $31,200,000 for the developer.

• The developer is to buy $5,700,000 in subordinate debt.

“Based on the information provided, we believe that the commission should recommended that the Board of Aldermen affirm the findings made when they adopted the original TIF plan with the amended and restated plan,” said Lauber. “The developers have a lot more skin in the game than at any other point as we’ve gone through this process.”

Aaron March with the White Goss Law Firm, on behalf of RED Legacy, stated that RED and the city continue to work hard and diligently together to get the Truman’s Marketplace project going. After determining that project one, the former Sam’s Club property, wouldn’t move forward on development, RED decided to continue on with their plans under the assumption that project one might not happen.

“The amendment you have before you is the project we want to start in April,” said March. “We want to get started as soon as the city passes the ordinance moving the bond documents forward. We’ve got the tenants, the same tenants we had before, and we will renegotiate to move them into the revised project.”

March and his team are no longer relying on project one, a supposed big-box retailer, to happen. He stated that if project one doesn’t materialize, they will still be happy with the project.

“I’ve worked with a lot of developers nationwide, and 99.8% of them would have walked from this project a long time ago,” said March. “RED, to their credit, has said, ‘no, we don’t do that. We perform.’”

While the vision of the project from its original form has changed, March stated that RED is teed up and ready to get to work. He said it is a vision that can be implemented without exposing the city’s general fund to risk.

“As with most citizens in the city of Grandview, I’ve been watching this project progress, or not progress, through the years,” said Grandview resident Sam Samarasinghe during the public comment session of the hearing. “We are on the third year of looking at this project, and the only updates we’ve gotten are little signs stating another six months. I hope this is the last six months we give them, as there has been a significant lack of progress. It’s a seventy-five million dollar project and we’re getting a fresh coat of paint? That’s not what the citizens were promised.”

Ultimately, the TIF Commission unanimously voted to recommend the second amendment to the Truman’s Marketplace TIF Redevelopment Plan to the Board of Aldermen for approval. Prior to adoption of an ordinance, a public hearing before the Board of Aldermen will be held on Thursday, February 26, at Grandview City Hall, 1200 Main Street. A copy of the proposed amendment is available for inspection in the city clerk’s office.

Friday, January 16, 2015

County Prosecutor Strikes Violence with a Firm Hand


By Mary Wilson

The South Kansas City Alliance welcomed Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to their monthly meeting on Monday, January 12. Prior to being elected to her current position in November 2012, Peters Baker served in many capacities in the prosecutor’s office, working in nearly every unit.

“I love my job. I have a great, hard, lovely job,” said Peters Baker.
The prosecutor’s office undertook an ambitious challenge upon the arrival of Peters Baker to establish an anti-violence movement in the Kansas City area, called the No Violence Alliance, or NoVA. Peters Baker said that NoVA is all about collaboration between law enforcement, prosecutors and the community.

“If anyone is under the impression that one person or one entity can get something done, you’re probably mistaken,” said Peters Baker. “My goal is to make sure I further my partnerships.”
Peters Baker will be meeting with Wyandotte County District Attorney Jerome Gordon and the KCK Chief of Police, due to the “imaginary line” that divides Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas. She sees the importance of building the collaboration across state lines to share information.

“Criminals know no lines,” added Peters Baker. “The people that harm their community harm my community and I want to make sure that we are dealing with them the way we ought to. Sometimes, that is with a very firm hand. ”
The major objective Peters Baker had in coming to the prosecutor’s office has been to address violence. While she has concerns in other crimes, such as stolen autos and burglaries, her main concern lies with violence, especially when it puts the community’s children in harm’s way.

Upon taking office, the homicide rate in Kansas City was at the top of the leaderboard nationwide, according to Peters Baker, competing often with Detroit and other cities known for violence. These statistics came as a shock to the prosecutor, who said that it seemed as if Kansas City was accepting of those numbers.
“Every year, sometime in November, we’d hit that number 100,” said Peters Baker. “One-hundred homicides in Kansas City per year, and we’d go over it. I thought, that is just unacceptable. It’s wrong and it’s not who we are. It does not have to be who we are.”

She went to work to find a program that would best address Kansas City’s number one problem: violence. She sought a program that was evidence-based, studied by the academics and had proven results. That’s what she, along with Mayor Sly James and Chief of Police Darryl Forte, brought to Kansas City. After roughly two years into the anti-violence movement, at the end of 2014, Kansas City saw 77 homicides.
“That’s great and I’m very proud of that,” said Peters Baker. “I’m also very disappointed in that number because 77 is still much too high.”

Peters Baker said that while the national homicide rate is roughly 4 per 100,000, Kansas City ranked at 23 per 100,000 in 2013. In 2014, Kansas City was around 16 per 100,000 homicides.
“Any reduction is a reduction to applaud and be happy about,” said Peters Baker.

The downside to those statistics is that Peters Baker is dealing with a seven-year-old victim fighting for her life after being struck by bullets while driving down a Kansas City highway with her family. Another example is an unsolved homicide in KCK of a 7-month-old boy, and another of a ten-year-old girl remains unsolved. She also spoke of a two-year-old that lost his life after an act of child abuse by his caregiver.   
“He’s actually our first homicide of 2015,” said Peters Baker. “There’s more, but I guess what I have to tell you is that Kansas City seems like a really awful place to be a child. I can’t tell you how angry it makes me when children pay the price for our violence problem. I find it completely unacceptable.”

She added that in 2015, Kansas City as a whole has to do better than in 2014 despite the market improvement.
“It is still not good enough,” Peters Baker said.

Peters Baker said that while the violence problem in Kansas City can feel a bit hopeless, it can be corrected. When a family is affected by violence, it impacts the community, which brought forth the KC NoVA effort.
“We believe we can further reduce that number,” said Peters Baker.

The collaboration relies on prosecutors, police, the community and pastors, to deliver messages of hope and redemption. If hope and redemption are offered and not taken, Peters Baker said that her office is the next step.
“If violence happens, it’s not just one person; everyone in that network is going to get hit,” said Peters Baker. “So we warn them. We bring these folks in that we have identified are engaged in a life of violence and we offer them another path.”

Social services workers are present to offer a real solution to violent offenders. Peters Baker said the main message is simple: don’t shoot people; don’t hurt people.
“Some people need the help to get out of that cycle,” said Peters Baker. “Not everyone is going to listen to us, and that’s where the law enforcement side comes in. We’ve got to be tough and we’ve got to be ready to handle the kind of violence that happens in our city.”

Of the 77 homicides, Peters Baker’s office filed more murder in the first degree charges than any other prosecutor in Kansas City. She credits that to the collaboration brought forth by KC NoVA.

“Violence begets more violence,” said Peters Baker. “You’ve got to stop it before it begins, or there’ll be more violence. We need to intervene and let them know there’s another way.”

KC NoVA is supported by its partner agencies, which have donated personnel, time and equipment, as well as outside funding from local grant makers, including the Greater Kansas City LISC (Local Initiative Support Corp.) and Jackson County COMBAT.