At least one Independence City Council member is in favor of using tax increment financing at the former Blue Ridge Cinema site, saying the area has long experienced blight and the plan is in line with her goal to clean up U.S. 40.

At least one Independence City Council member is in favor of using tax increment financing at the former Blue Ridge Cinema site, saying the area has long experienced blight and the plan is in line with her goal to clean up U.S. 40.

While no citizens spoke in favor of or against a proposed amendment to the Blue Ridge Crossing East TIF plan Monday, District 4 Council Member Eileen Weir said she encourages them to sign up with the city clerk’s office to speak prior to the council’s vote at next Monday’s meeting.

Weir said she agrees with city staff’s recommendation for approval of the changes to a TIF plan – known as Blue Ridge Crossing East – first approved four years ago, as well as the developer’s revised plan that includes Burlington Coat Factory as an anchor.

“There is no clearer definition of a blighted property than what we have experienced in the 4th District at Blue Ridge Cinema,” Weir said. “We have lost a tremendous amount in the 4th District: We’ve lost our golf course, at Rockwood Golf Club; we’ve lost our YMCA; and we need to start adding things back into the 4th District that are beneficial to our community.”

The redevelopment of the former Blue Ridge Cinema site near Interstate 70 and U.S. 40 calls for an anchor tenant, a retail building with several tenants and one restaurant. The developer says Burlington Coat Factory is already on board as the project’s tenant.

The amendment would change the project from 15 years to a full 23-year TIF as allowed by state statute. Project costs also are jumping from $8.6 million to $15.5 million, with the reimbursable costs for the developer also increasing from $1.9 million to $4.4 million.

“It’s unfortunate at this time that we have to come back and amend TIFs like this,” said Spencer Thomson, an attorney representing the developer, Cinema East LLC, “but as you know, this council approved the previous TIF that is in place, and unfortunately, that did not result in any investment. We think that with the provisions we’ve requested in this amendment, we can finally ink a deal with a legitimate tenant.”

City staff recommends approval of the amended Blue Ridge Crossing East TIF. The TIF Commission voted 5-4 earlier this month to recommend denial to the City Council, which has the final vote. City Manager Robert Heacock said he is unsure why those members against the amendment didn’t say why during the March 7 TIF Commission meeting.

Heacock said the site has remained in its current state of blight since he moved to Independence 15 years ago. He remembered the former Blue Ridge Cinema, which closed in 1995, as one of the potential areas for redevelopment first brought to his attention by then Mayor Ron Stewart.

“Of all the TIF projects that the city has considered, I would certainly put this among the top in terms of meeting the core definition of a blighted area,” Heacock said.

He also said the same developer has had success with the TIF project across the street, particularly the portion in Independence city limits (McDonald’s, Starbucks, T-Mobile, East Buffet and Good Nails) that didn’t receive TIF assistance.

“We do not think this is a viable project without this type of assistance,” Heacock said.

Raytown School District Superintendent Allan Markley, who voted against the amendment on March 7, recently told The Examiner that while he thinks the proposed development is a good one, he didn’t think the use of TIF was appropriate and that it would take away tax revenues from the school district. Blue Ridge Crossing East is within the Raytown School District.

“I’m somewhat puzzled how that can be the case,” Heacock said Monday.

Tax increment financing, Heacock said, only incorporates new revenue generated and that the Blue Ridge Crossing East project wouldn’t deter funds away from the Raytown School District or other taxing jurisdictions.

“There haven’t been sizable taxes that have been coming in out there in the past 15 years or probably before that,” Heacock said. “... This project would not take any funds away from any taxing jurisdiction. It can hope to spur further development.”

Based on her conversations with city staff, the developer and members of the TIF Commission, Weir said she doesn’t understand the project’s opposition, besides those who are philosophically against TIF projects.

“What I need to consider is what is good for development in the 4th District,” Weir said, “and it certainly is no secret to anybody who I represent that the redevelopment of 40 Highway is a top priority for me, and I believe for this entire council.”