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All The President's Men

A TIF over the Power and Light Building illuminates Kansas City's future.


It's finally here! 2003! The year of Kansas City! After sitting idle during a decade of economic prosperity that sparked urban growth nationwide, the City of Fountains is ready to make its move. And just to show all those pansy cities that flourished the easy way (we're looking at you, Dallas), Kansas City will make its civic strides in the face of a recession. Eat it, Indianapolis!

How about a new downtown arena? Bam! How about a performing arts center so gorgeous it'll burn your eyes? Whammo! More downtown apartments? Done! Free parking? Nice!

It's going to happen because, after years of dissent, all of Kansas City's power brokers finally agree on everything.

OK, maybe not. Take the President Hotel. Last summer, its savior, Ron Jury, fought for the right -- and the tax breaks -- to restore the downtown landmark and develop its surrounding block. Some people wanted to tear down the President and make it a park. Park? Jury asked. That's the President Hotel you're talking about, vacant since 1980! Hotel saved.

Only now the bank has pulled Jury's funding, forcing him to sue his old lender while searching for new cash. Time to count on this new all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude that's driving downtown development!

OK, so the President's big-time neighbor, the Power and Light Building, is being a jerk. At the Tax-Increment Financing Commission last Wednesday, its real estate man, Steve Brettell, complained that for twenty years, workers in the Power and Light Building have had to look at the ass end of an empty President. The view is costing the Power and Light Building new tenants, he griped. And he scoffed at Jury's chances of securing new financing, noting that banks aren't exactly jumping into bed with hotel developers after a certain date-specific terrorist attack sacked the tourism industry. But, on the bright side, it's not like Brettell said the President should be torn down.

OK, so he did. "I would hate to see the President stand as is for another six months," he told TIF commissioners.

For shame! After all, it's not as though Kansas City's top development man referred to the President plan as "unrealistic and highly improbable" last summer.

OK, so he did. Screw the President, Economic Development Corporation President Andi Udris said, and give us that park!

At least City Council members took his advice, voting to raze the building, put in some nice green space and invest tax dollars elsewhere.

OK, so they didn't. They disregarded Udris' opinion and blessed the President plan with $17 million, public money that now sits in limbo, untouchable until Jury finds more financing of his own.

So that plan's in neutral. At least there's the Power and Light Building! Yes, the Art Deco landmark recently has been called the "centerpiece" and "cornerstone" of Kansas City's downtown revival. There we go, fancy lady! Lick it, Denver!

Um, this is embarrassing. The majority of what was once a $628 million downtown project now exists only at the Jackson County Courthouse, where the Power and Light Building sued the development company that was supposed to spend all that money on such supa-cool downtown stuff as an AMC theater and a Planet Hollywood. So TIF Commission Chairman Peter Yelorda has learned to be skeptical about all things Power and Light. Last week, he noted how such projects always seem to "vaporize."

At least -- at the very, very least -- Yelorda understands when to ask the right question, knows what to say when the an entity like the Power and Light Building comes talking smack, hinting that the best thing for everyone would be to tear down the President and give the Power and Light Building a new lawn. So he challenged Brettell with an alternative fate for the President, asking, "Would you be interested in buying it?"

Watch out, Omaha!

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