Development Can Happen without Subsidies
It is a sign of how bad the subsidy culture is getting when Kansas City Star reporter Diane Stafford has to mention that a proposed Country Club Plaza apartment building plan, “calls for no public incentives.” How did we get to the point where the mere fact that private developers are developing privately is noteworthy?
Back when City leaders referred to themselves as “geniuses,” City Hall was handing out subsidies to everyone. H&R Block kicked off the feeding frenzy with their downtown office building, followed by the financially disastrous Power & Light District deal that has taxpayers footing the bond payments. In recent years taxpayers have chipped in for wealthy corporate headquarters for Burns & McDonnell and Cerner, and subsidized luxury high-rise apartment buildings. Even The Star itself has received a tax abatement. Once taxpayers and parents raised an objection to a subsidy for architectural firm BNIM to build in a hip part of town, the Council considered some reforms. Mayor Sly James would have none of it and complained that “we may as well put up a sign that says Kansas City is once again closed for business.”
Obviously, James is wrong. As Kansas City contemplated subsidizing a Hyatt hotel downtown, Marriott was building two on their own dime a few blocks away. The owners of Ward Parkway Mall are building a restaurant plaza without any subsidies. And now we learn of this proposed 13-story, 257-unit apartment building just west of Country Club Plaza. This is great news, not just because someone wants to invest in Kansas City, but because they are willing to invest their own money rather than seek taxpayer subsidies.
As Show-Me Institute writers have pointed out for years, not only do subsidies starve cities, counties, schools, and libraries of the revenue they need to provide basic services, subsidies also pervert developers’ incentive structure. And all this for projects that research shows likely would have been built anyway.
Real private investment—without taxpayer subsidies—is a true sign of economic health. City leaders need to put the brakes on handing out subsidies and let more private investment come.