The Lawrence school board on Monday voted 4-3 to approve tax breaks for First Management Inc. to renovate a downtown building into its new corporate headquarters.
Doug Compton, owner of First Management and First Construction, seeks a 15-year, 65% property tax rebate via a Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) incentive to redevelop the long-vacant downtown Borders building at 700 New Hampshire St. (See more coverage of the project at the links below.)
The city, county and school district each individually consider whether to participate in the incentives for their taxing jurisdictions. The Lawrence City Commission on Aug. 1 gave initial approval to the city’s part in the tax breaks. Douglas County commissioners will consider a request from the company on Wednesday.
The estimated cost to the school district for the NRA rebates is $212,706, according to agenda materials. But Sam Camp, economic development analyst for the City of Lawrence, said Monday that was inaccurate and “you are essentially given what’s owed to you through the state, kind of no matter what. That dollar amount is kind of just the value of what is given through this NRA.”
“What I understand from tonight’s discussion, and speaking with the finance staff with the school district beforehand, is the state will kind of make you whole kind of no matter what, or to the best of their ability,” Camp said. “So what essentially is being given up is some of that taxing, the tax dollars, that the state will just have to make up a little bit more.”
Brandy Sutton, First Management’s director of operations, said the project is “going to encourage residential development and additional children in our school districts by bringing new employees to Lawrence.”
Compton said without the school district’s cooperation in the NRA, the project would not move forward. The 65% NRA rebate was the lowest the company could go, he said.
Board members GR Gordon-Ross, Bob Byers, Shannon Kimball and Kelly Jones voted in favor of the NRA. Carole Cadue-Blackwood, Erica Hill and Paula Vann voted against it.
Hill said her “no” vote was based on her being uncomfortable with the lack of information the board had beforehand, and a lack of understanding. There were more questions than answers during the conversation Monday, she said.
Gordon-Ross said walking into the meeting he wasn’t in favor of the NRA, but his opinion was changed after the presentation from city staff and the company. He said he appreciated that they were willing to “stand up there and take some shots.”
“I’m used to taking shots after 35 years of being a developer,” Compton said. “So it’s called change, and not a lot of people like change. But I do think this is a project you’ll be proud of.”
City staff members will next present the request at the Douglas County Commission meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the historic courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. View the county commission’s agenda item at this link.
First Management also seeks Industrial Revenue Bonds for construction materials to be fully exempt from county sales tax. The estimated total cost to Douglas County is $230,731 — $5,883 in sales tax exemptions and $224,848 in NRA tax rebates, according to the agenda item.
The city ordinances on the tax breaks will return to the Lawrence City Commission for final consideration at a future meeting after the county commission weigh in. If approved, sales tax exemptions from the city, county and state, plus property tax breaks from the city, county and school district altogether are estimated at $680,759, according to the agenda item.