Crestwood officials formulating economic-development application

Alderman Nieder views policy, panel as ‘smoothing out’ of process

By BURKE WASSON

To have a better understanding of future developments in Crestwood, city officials are formulating an economic-development application for developers requesting public assistance.

The application would be completed when developers request assistance in the form of economic-development taxing tools like tax-increment financing, or TIF, community-improvement districts, or CIDs, and transportation-development districts, or TDDs.

As proposed, each request for public monies to help fund developments would be evaluated by an executive review committee of city employees and administrators. If recommended as a viable need, the application would be presented to aldermen.

The city’s proposed application sprang from aldermen’s discussions in September 2006 as part of the city’s strategic-planning sessions.

Following aldermen’s initial desire to draft such an application, the city put together a team of employees to develop the policy with the consulting services of Gilmore & Bell counsel Mark Grimm.

Grimm told aldermen at a July 10 work session that, as proposed, a developer re-questing an economic-development tool would have 15 days after that request to complete the application.

The executive review committee would then have 30 days after the developer submits the application to review it.

But City Administrator Frank Myers told aldermen that he believes the committee should move faster than those timelines.

“For this policy to work, there has to be a commitment on the part of the city administration and this committee, and we talked about this on the Economic Development Commission, to keep this thing moving fast,” Myers said. “There are timelines put into the policy. But those timelines are, quite frankly, we should be moving faster than those timelines.

“We need to get this process reviewed quickly, get it to the board, the board needs to understand what is being proposed by this developer and act before the developer comes before the board requesting a blight study, requesting other soft costs. That’s the intent.”

Myers said because aldermen are often asked to approve developers’ funding for blight studies and legal fees before they vote on the project itself, developers run the risk of losing those funds if aldermen ultimately deny the project.

Conversely, he said aldermen might feel pressured to support the project because a developer has already contributed up-front money to the creation of tax-incentive districts and studies.

To eliminate this pressure and to save developers the burden of paying tens of thousands of dollars for a project that might not be approved, Myers said the proposed policy would be a better solution for everyone involved.

“I think there’s some real frustration, if I recall, that, you know, we’re voting to create this, to take this money to pay for these studies when we don’t even know if we’re going to go forward with the project,” Myers said. “This policy was designed to be at the front end of that process whereby when a developer wants to come in to create a CID or a TDD or some other economic-development tool, before any action is taken by the board to do the blight study or the developer fronts money for certain technical services, there has to be an application completed.

“The board is given an opportunity to understand, review and say: ‘You know what? We agree with moving forward and using that economic-development tool.’ But this committee was designed to really review the application and then forward a recommendation to the board. And the board would give their blessing and then move forward with the next step of doing the blight study and doing all those things. That’s what this was designed to do,” the city administrator added.

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland said he believes the proposal has merit because it not only makes sure aldermen have the most accurate information they can obtain from a developer, but it also allows aldermen plenty of time to weigh such proposals.

“Rather than having a three-hour Board of Aldermen meeting where in the end after a lot of debate and discussion we decide that we’re going to table it until a future meeting and we have a workshop, when this is brought to us at the board level, we’ll already have a pretty good framework of what is going to be going on,” Bland said.

“We’ll have more information to make an informed decision rather than getting it on a Friday night (before a Tuesday Board of Aldermen meeting). So I think there is some merit to this.”

While Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel was concerned that the policy and the formation of a review committee would essentially add another layer to the approval process, Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder views it as more of a “smoothing out” of the process.

“I don’t believe it’s adding another layer,” Nieder said. “I think it’s actually smoothing out the process and making it much easier if the developer could look at that way to get things done in a timely fashion.”

Nieder also said that because the city’s Economic Development Commission has conveyed that it “may not have all the facilities” to review such applications, establishing a separate review committee would be beneficial.

Ward 4 Alderman John Foote questioned whether the proposed application should ask developers how much funding they would request because some developers might not need such taxing assistance.

“At some point in time, people came to this city with the desire to move in and develop projects in this town without the handout for cash,” Foote said. “And I find the inclusion of ‘Here, we’ll help you, OK?’ that implies it needs to be up front. Obviously, if they ask for support, then we have to evaluate whether or not it’s worth the city’s time and effort and whether we want to go there.

“I’m really saying at front, maybe there will be a developer that comes in and says ‘I want to build this thing like the old folks’ home down there on Grant — at my own expense.’ Or as the other places like that Sappington and Watson, ‘We want to reface the entire building at our expense.’ I’d like to see if we couldn’t maybe return to some of that without initially in the recommendation say: ‘How much do you need?”‘

But Mayor Roy Robinson said while he has never first discussed public assistance with developers proposing projects, because the majority of them will request it, he believes the proposed application would only help the city.

“In the introduction, we don’t talk about those things at the beginning,” Robinson said. “We find out what the project is … Any discussion I’ve ever had we’ve never the first thing we talked about is economic tools. It comes later if in fact they feel that they’re not going to be able to do the project without the help, which all developers feel like they need help.”