Kevin Collison, freelance reporter and supporter of taxpayer-subsidized economic development, inadvertently undercut the argument that streetcars spur economic investment in a recent story on a downtown Kansas City blog.
The piece details yet another downtown building getting historic tax credits and being let off the hook for property taxes. Taxpayers can be forgiven if they wonder whether the glass cube building completed in 1973 and pictured above is historic and worthy of subsidized preservation. But that is a matter for another time; this is about the streetcar.
The $50 million redevelopment plan for the reflective glass-clad building known as the Flashcube received critical tax incentives to move forward today, the latest project on the downtown Kansas City streetcar line.
Streetcar supporters may decide to include this renovation in their shifting and often incorrect list of projects that can be credited to the streetcar. At best, they can claim that the streetcar got developers interested in seeking taxpayer subsidies. But the streetcar was neither necessary nor sufficient for the project. The available research does not support the claim that streetcars—in Kansas City or elsewhere—drive development. And Collison’s own story makes that point clear. The building sat vacant for a decade, and it wasn’t until taxpayer subsidies were offered that any renovation deal moved forward—in short, the public is investing in yet another downtown development deal that businesses wouldn’t touch on their own.
Regardless of the merits of the downtown development subsidies—and again, we discuss that elsewhere—this project is moving forward because of the subsidies, not the streetcar.