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Lawrence City Commission to consider tax breaks for downtown Borders project

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will hold a public hearing and consider tax incentives for First Management Inc. to redevelop the long-vacant downtown Borders building for use as corporate headquarters.

A city committee in June voted in favor of one tax break for a project to redevelop the former bookstore building at 700 New Hampshire St., but they voted against a much larger tax incentive that First Management Inc. and owner Doug Compton had requested.

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The company previously sought a 15-year, 90% Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) rebate on property taxes for the building, and the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee voted to recommend the city commission deny that request. However, in an updated request for the city commission, the project instead seeks a 15-year, 65% NRA rebate.

The company also seeks Industrial Revenue Bonds for a 100% sales tax exemption on construction materials for the building, which equates to a smaller value and which the PIRC voted to recommend for approval.

The cost to the city if both incentives are approved is estimated to be $180,250 over the 15-year period, according to meeting agenda materials.

Plans call for about $4.3 million in capital investment to completely remodel the Borders building’s interior, a second story addition, tuck-pointed exterior masonry, a new entrance and additional windows and landscaping, according to project documentation. A historic livery wall that was maintained when the building was constructed will also be preserved, according to the agenda.

“Base property tax, or what the undeveloped property is currently generating, is shielded from the rebate so the City will continue to get at least the same amount of property tax revenues as it currently receives,” according to the agenda.

City staff members are encouraging the Lawrence City Commission to approve both requests.

“The redevelopment project will meet one of the City’s goals of increasing adaptive reuse and providing employment creation,” the staff memo in the meeting agenda states. “In addition, the redevelopment of a historically underutilized parcel into productive use will enhance the local economy, producing adequate returns on the investment of public dollars in the short term and substantial returns in the long term.”

The company anticipates adding seven new full-time positions with an annual pay range of $90,000 to $120,000, and 14 new full-time jobs paying $50,000 to $70,000 annually, according to the agenda item.

The company will have to make similar requests to the Douglas County Commission and the Lawrence school board: “The City, County, and School District individually consider participation in an NRA and each has the discretion to determine the rebate percentage and duration of the NRA for their taxing jurisdiction,” according to the agenda. A cost-benefit analysis in the meeting agenda shows the costs of the NRA could be about $231,000 to the county and $213,000 to the school district, if approved.

See the full agenda item at this link.

The Lawrence City Commission meeting is set for 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

The agenda is fairly light, as is common when the commission meets on election nights. See the full agenda at this link; get ready to vote in the Lawrence City Commission and Lawrence school board primary with our coverage at lawrencekstimes.com/election2023.

The commission accepts written public comment until noon the day of the meeting emailed to ccagendas@lawrenceks.org. People may also provide public comment during the meeting in person at City Hall or via Zoom. Register for the Zoom meeting at this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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