TIF effort was an education for Cape

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

An effort that divided opinions in Cape Girardeau -- accusations of tax breaks for the rich on one side and an anti-development outlook on the other -- and taught us what "TIF" stood for came to an abrupt end last week.

A proposed housing development around a golf course touched off the debate three years ago.

Prestwick Plantation's developers wanted a financial boost from a tax-increment financing district.

In short, the TIF designation means taxes normally assessed on the increased value of new development would go back into the development's infrastructure instead of to taxing entities -- mainly the city and school district.

The TIF economic development tool typically is used only when a major development might not otherwise occur. With little fanfare or community debate, the Buchheit store in Jackson near Center Junction was built a couple of years ago with TIF benefits.

The Prestwick proposal is an ambitious one. At 600 acres, it's the largest subdivision under consideration for the city and would include homes, condominiums and cottages.

Prestwick eventually would include four neighborhoods, a golf clubhouse, a recreation center including a swimming pool and tennis courts, a community retail center and day-care facilities.

The centerpiece of the development -- and the only part not covered by the proposed TIF -- is the 27-hole, 300-acre Dalhousie Golf Club.

The Cape Girardeau City Council has the ultimate say on TIF projects. In February 2002, the council, as required, created an advisory committee to coordinate all the parties involved, research TIFs, collect public opinion and ultimately to make a recommendation.

In the year that followed, the developers and school district were to work out a payment in lieu of taxes and other issues.

The talks dragged on, and eventually the school board came out unequivocally against the idea.

The development would produce schoolchildren, the district argued, and it would take tax money needed to educate them.

The carrots held out by Prestwick, including at one time the offer to build an elementary school, weren't enough.

Prestwick cut its request for TIF funding from $30 million to $9 million. The move didn't seem to advance the project.

Finally, the developers had enough. In a letter last week to the city, Prestwick dropped its TIF request.

However, that doesn't mean the project is dead, only that it will move forward at a slower pace, a Prestwick Group representative said.

After three years of discussion, the city's first attempt at a TIF was an education. Everyone involved knows more about the process and about the potential for development through a TIF program.

Mayor Jay Knudtson, who ultimately said he didn't think the Prestwick project fit the true spirit of TIF, summed it up this way:

"This was a new acronym introduced to Cape Girardeau. I believed very strongly that the citizens fully needed to understand the concept. I felt as though it needed to run its true course."

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