By Seann McAnally
The Truman Corners Shopping Center got a new lease on life Tuesday night.
The Grandview Board of Aldermen voted 5-1 to approve a redevelopment and tax increment financing plan for RED Development’s “Truman’s Landing,” a $91.3 million, 545,000-square-foot project that would totally rebuild the shopping center by 2015. Alderman Joe Runions was the sole vote against the plan.
The board also voted 5-0 not to approve a competing plan, The Grand, from the center’s current owner, American Resergens Management Company, who offered a more modest and less financially risky proposal. Runions abstained from that vote. He said his “no” vote for RED’s plan was because he’s uncomfortable with the level of public subsidy RED requested.
“They’re getting the city to put up 45 percent of the money,” Runions said. “That’s $41 million. That’s a lot of money to not know what we’re getting.” He referred to the fact that RED does not currently have any leases in place for the center.
RED also asked the city to back bonds that would pay for almost half of the construction costs. Tom Kaleko, an independent financial advisor for the city, acknowledged that the city could be at risk if the center does not perform as well as analysts predict. In negotiations, city officials tried to minimize that risk by insisting that RED have the center leased before bonds are issued.
The risk didn’t bother many in the packed house at City Hall that night. Dozens of residents had already spoken at previous meetings in favor of RED’s plan, which was formally endorsed by the Grandview Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m proud of this city,” said Gail Worth, of Gail’s Harley Davidson. “But I must say, when I drive down the highway and see the eyesore of Truman Corners, it sickens me. Let’s take a risk.”
Local pastor Alan Kinder agreed.
“When we first moved here, what we saw at Truman Corners was an eyesore. Now, 10 years later it’s still an eyesore,” he said. “No risk does not necessarily mean the best plan. Risk is a part of life.”
Albert Teague, of Teague Construction, agreed, saying the current management failed to keep up the center and should not be given another chance.
“You can work your horses, but if you don’t feed, water and nurture them, they die,” Teague said.
Aaron March, an attorney for RED, said he understood that financial risk was a concern to some, but that it’s not as bad as it sounds.
“I know that it sounds very scary when you hear it on the surface,” he said. “But we’ve done a pretty good job of eliminating as much risk as we could in a public-private partnership like this. We believe in very short order we will have the project leased.”
Alderman Jim Crain said he’d spent some “sleepless nights” trying to decide how to vote, but in the end, he was comfortable the city’s efforts to mitigate risk in RED’s plan.
“RED’s plan has a vision that’s much closer to my vision as being a lifelong resident of this community,” he said. “I think our residents deserve better places to shop than what they have currently.”
Alderman Leonard Jones agreed.
“I feel comfortable that the risk we are going to undertake, we’ve done an admirable job to mitigate that to the best of our ability,” he said.
Alderwoman Annette Turnbaugh said she was excited about the future.
“Our hope is we’re going to have a glowing Truman Corners again with hustle and bustle,” she said.
RED has yet to purchase the property from ARMC, a process that could end up in condemnation proceedings if negotiations fail. But March said the developer would immediately begin leasing the property.
“We’ll start tomorrow,” he said.
Mayor Steve Dennis thanked both ARMC and RED for being "gentlemen" during the competition.
"This has been excruciating," Dennis said of the selection process. "But every game has a winner and a loser."
ARMC had a tax increment financing plan with the city but it was revoked last year, with city officials citing ARMC’s failure to lease the center. ARMC also several times appealed any property value increase for the center, testifying before Jackson County officials that it was worth less than county assessors said it was.
"That's contrary to the purpose of a TIF," said Joe Lauber, a city attorney, when the board revoked ARMC's TIF last year.
Those appeals could have an effect on the price RED offers ARMC for the center.
"We believe that it's worth what they said it was worth when they testified under oath," March said.