Fixing the “Delmar Divide” with a TIF?
Developers are asking for millions in tax subsidies for a redevelopment project with the hopes of fixing St. Louis’s “Delmar Divide” between the Central West End and the low-income neighborhoods north of Delmar Boulevard. I work (and wrote this piece) not far from the proposed project area, and I’ll admit, it could use a facelift. But not one funded by tax dollars. Is throwing tax dollars and special perks to developers really the way to bridge this gap between a high- and low-income area?
The Kingsway Commercial Tax Increment Redevelopment Plan involves developing multiple projects where the Central West End meets Delmar Boulevard. But perhaps more importantly, a big chunk of funding for these projects would come via a tax-increment financing (TIF) district that would raise $6.2 million. This project will also be financed by a mixture of state and federal tax credits. There are additional plans to create a community improvement district (adding to Missouri’s growing special taxing district problem).
These economic development tools would help to finance this project at the expense of taxpayers; they give developers cash, reduce their tax burdens, and could increase sales taxes in the area. North of the “Delmar Divide” is generally a low-income area, so should we really be redistributing tax dollars from low-income residents to developers instead of using these dollars for public services? Especially when other publicly funded ventures like the Cerner headquarters in Kansas City or the Loop Trolley right down the street from this project haven’t delivered on their promises?
While I’m sure most can appreciate the “bridging the gap” intention of this project, TIF is a flawed economic development tool that often gives no benefit to taxpayers. TIF requires that an area be blighted (for which Missouri has a very broad definition), and that the development would not happen without the public funding. With the thriving Central West End neighborhood just steps from this development, it’s hard to believe that development in this area would not occur without millions of public dollars. Moreover, even if this area were blighted, does it really need these perks for the next 23 years? Is diverting tax dollars to a private development project really the best way to develop this area of St. Louis?