Thursday, May 19 2022

Springfield is moving forward again with an incentive package for a proposed development of blighted land in west Springfield that was previously scrapped late last year amid transparency concerns. 

Located at the corner of West Sunshine and James River Freeway, the Brody Corners development would receive a maximum $3.4 million of reimbursements for the public improvements made by developers, if passed by city council next month. The development hopes to transform an abandoned mobile home park into a retail location with “nationally franchised quick service restaurants, office space and service industry locations,” according to city Economic Director Sarah Kerner.

At a Wednesday Tax Increment Financing Commission meeting, Kerner said the incentives were needed for the project to move forward and posed no “financial risk” to the city. That’s because the reimbursement only come from city revenues generated by the development.

Previous coverage:After citizen complaint, Brody Corners TIF plan axed at developer request

“There is no paying money upfront. The developer only gets reimbursed as revenues are generated. So if the developer gets this deal approved and doesn’t build anything, they get no reimbursement because there’s no new taxes generated from the site,” she said.

According to Kerner, the improvements made by the developer would generate $1.6 million for the city above the cost of the incentives, compared to $21,119 without development. 

Springfield officials say project won’t happen without TIF 

The city also believes the project will not happen but for the city’s intervention.

“A TIF is necessary to make this project financially feasible. Looking at the following considerations for one, I mean it seems a little flip, but I guess I’m saying it needs it because (development) hasn’t happened yet,” Kerner said. “This property is at a very key intersection and there has been no development and part of the reason is because some of the infrastructure improvements that are going to be funded by the TIF are not currently present.”

More:Electric scooters coming to Springfield? Council weighs the possibility

On behalf of developer Mike Seitz, lawyer Cory Collins concurred — claiming the development would not go forward without the city’s incentives.

“Without some assistance, this thing just faces too many challenges and too much expense, too much off site costs to really make any sense from a financial perspective to incur the development costs to mediate the problems.”

Asked why Seitz had purchased the property if it had so many issues, Collins said it was a “great location.”

“I suggested at a number of junctures that we abandon and walk away because it’s so challenging… but no matter how you look at it, it’s ultimately in a good location. I think that it all it has great potential to not only begin development, but to spur the growth in the area.”

West-side site in poor condition 

Kerner labeled the site’s current condition a “menace to public health.” 

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Abandoned since 2012, a 2014 court judgment found the 28-acre property in violation of Missouri’s Clean Water Law. 

Charging penalties of $41,000, the property was found to have a wastewater treatment facility in disrepair and acting as an unsanitary sewage lagoon. That facility created a sinkhole that is contaminating nearby groundwater in addition to wells and drinking water. 

The order also found the property had accumulated debris and was an illegal dumping ground. Since the 2014 judgment, the site has not been remediated and the previous owners lost it through foreclosure. 

Collins, the developer’s lawyer, said his client was not responsible for the poor condition of the property — having purchased it after the foreclosure.

“The property was purchased and we immediately started this process,” he said.

That answer was unsatisfactory to Councilman Mike Schilling, who claimed developer Seitz has worked in “bad faith” with the city.

“I’m concerned about the good citizenship of this developer because this property has continued to be open and allow dumping since at least for the past year, or whenever it was acquired,” Schilling said. “We annexed the property last June and yet there is no impediment to people going in there and dumping trash.”

When the plan previously surfaced before council last year, Schilling called the property a “hellish mess” and said he would not have annexed it into the city if he had known about its poor condition.

In response, Collins said the developer had considered fencing the property to prevent dumping but was cautioned against it by the Springfield Fire Department.

“The fire department was concerned about any kind of barrier because they wanted to be able to get in there. Because someone apparently had set one of the barns on fire. So we’ve got emergency services saying they want direct access,” he said.

More:Plans for Republic’s ‘Iron Grain District’ reveal multi-family housing, retail development

Developer pulled previous request after complaint 

The city had planned to pass the incentive package last December before a local resident filed a complaint to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office alleging the city had violated posting requirements related to the state’s Sunshine Law.

Though the city maintained they had correctly posted meetings related to the project, the vote was abruptly pulled at the last minute at the developer’s request. The resident never received a reply from the AG’s Office concerning her complaint.

During the Wednesday meeting, Collins did not address why the bill was pulled last year and why it was being reintroduced now. Collins did not immediately respond to a request to comment from the News-Leader.

Kerner said all notices had been properly posted for it to go forward now.

At the meeting, the TIF Commission unanimously supported the proposal — sending it for city council review. A reporter was first told they could watch the meeting virtually, but a half-hour before the meeting, a city official said the link was only for commissioners to attend virtually.

Public hearing on the plan will take place during council’s Feb. 22 meeting and a final vote on March 7.

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