Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday approved First Management Inc.’s request for about $180,000 in tax breaks to construct its corporate headquarters in downtown Lawrence.
First Management, owned by Doug Compton, will receive Industrial Revenue Bonds for construction materials to be fully exempt from city sales tax for the project to redevelop the long-vacant downtown Borders building at 7th and New Hampshire streets.
The city commission voted 4-1 to approve the incentive. Commissioner Courtney Shipley cast the opposing vote.
The city commission also voted 3-2 to provide First Management with a 65% rebate on property taxes for the building for 15 years via a Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) incentive. The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee previously had recommended the commission deny an earlier request for a 90% rebate.
Shipley and Mayor Lisa Larsen voted against the NRA incentive.
The cost to the city of the two incentives is estimated to be $180,250 over the 15-year period.
Shipley argued that providing First Management with a tax break would be unfair to other downtown business owners.
“The idea that the taxpayer should in some way alleviate that burden from you is unknown to me,” Shipley said. “It would be an insult, frankly, to many of the downtown building owners and business owners who have scrapped it out with absolutely no help from anyone else … I don’t believe that there should be any special consideration given to this business for the use of a space that they have clearly owned for over 10 years.”
Compton told commissioners that the project’s criteria includes a requirement that roughly a quarter of its subcontractors be minority- and women-owned and promised that the project will create local jobs.
Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn praised First Management for that along with its commitment to maintaining the integrity of the old Borders bookstore building, which has been vacant since 2011.
Several public commenters at the meeting cited the Borders building’s 12 years of vacancy as a reason why the project should not receive city assistance.
Compton was part of an investment group that purchased the property in 2015, but it has remained empty through years of abortive proposals to put a downtown grocery store there. Last year, Compton bought out the rest of the investment group to take sole ownership of the building.
After the commission’s adoption of Tuesday’s first reading of the ordinances, Economic Development Analyst Sam Camp said next steps include the Douglas County Commission and the Lawrence school board considering the tax breaks.
“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 meeting agenda.
First Management is scheduled to return to the Lawrence City Commission on Aug. 15 for a second reading of the incentives proposal and potential final approval of the plan.