Despite setbacks at one major development in the commercial district of southeast Independence, new projects are on the way and the city continues to pursue a strategy of making the area a regional draw for shoppers, diners and other visitors, bringing new money to the area.
“We try to look at two things: regional destinations and synergy,” said City Manager Robert Heacock.
The Falls at Crackerneck Creek project is set to get a major boost this fall with the addition of a hotel, the Stoney Creek Inn, next Bass Pro Shops. The added rooms and conference space opens the city up for hundreds of events, such as trade shows and conferences, currently held in Missouri, Heacock said. That in turn helps restaurants and retailers.
“The traffic is about developing the businesses out there,” Heacock said.
The Falls at Crackerneck Creek has had problems. Eight years ago the city issued $60 million in tax-increment financing bonds – there were state bonds as well – for site work and things such as roads to get the project going. Bass Pro came in, but the economy tanked and little development around Bass Pro has followed.
“I think it’s safe to say the project didn’t materialize as envisioned,” Heacock said.
That development was supposed to generate enough new sales and property taxes to pay back the bonds, but that had has fallen short of the amount needed. The city has had to make up the difference. Twice a year it makes payments, including one of $2.22 million scheduled for this month.
As of this month, bond payments will have been $45.34 million, most of generated from TIF district businesses but roughly one-third – $14.23 million – from city taxpayers.
The development company has said it’s unable to pay. The city periodically asks for payment.
“We do still send a letter every six months,” Heacock said. The letters include the running tally – the $14.23 million – that the city says is due.
The city has taken steps to encourage development and bring in new taxes. It continues to work with the developer.
“I can tell you that we will work to continue to bring businesses there,” Heacock said.
Also, about a year ago the city restructured the tax-increment financing project to take advantage of low interest rates, stretch out bond payments and to add nearby areas where new taxes could go for bond payments.
One new area includes the new Green Lantern Car Wash, and the other is northeast of Interstate 70 and Little Blue Parkway. That includes the QuikTrip opening this August and the area that the City Council last week rezoned at the request of Menards, the large home furnishings and building materials retailer. Menards says it would like to come to Independence some day but says no decision has been made.
“Any retail development that we get is beneficial,” said Jim Harlow, the city’s director of finance and administration.
Heacock and Harlow would not list a specific number of retailers and restaurants, or square footage of new development, that would bring enough taxes that the city wouldn’t have to supplement the bond payments, pointing out that businesses vary greatly.
More broadly, the city is trying to capitalize on assets such as the Independence Events Center, home of the Central Hockey League’s Missouri Mavericks, to be a regional draw.
“The Mavericks have season ticket holders that live in Warrensburg,” Heacock said. Restaurants, he said, do well on game nights, and much of that spending is new dollars to the area.
The area also has several restaurants and large retailers such as Bass Pro Shops, Barnes & Noble, Cheddars, Corner Cafe that are the only ones of their brand – and likely to remain the only ones – in Eastern Jackson County. Those also tend to bring new dollars.
“There’s not a redistribution, in other words,” Heacock said.