The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday voted 2-1 in favor of tax breaks for First Management Inc. to renovate a downtown building into its new corporate headquarters.
Doug Compton, owner of First Management Inc. 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.) First Management also seeks Industrial Revenue Bonds for construction materials to be fully exempt from city and 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 county will keep $500 annually as a fee for staff members’ work on the company’s annual applications for the tax rebates.
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, and the Lawrence school board on Monday voted 4-3 in favor of the school district’s portion of the NRA rebate.
If all are given final approval, 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 items.
The downtown building has been vacant since the Borders book store closed. First Management’s plans call for about $4.3 million in capital investment to completely remodel the 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 meeting agenda materials. Compton had already been a partial owner of the building, but he bought out his partners in September 2022.
Commissioner Patrick Kelly, who is a member of the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, at PIRC’s June meeting voted in favor of the IRB sales tax incentive, but against First Management’s earlier request for a 15-year, 90% NRA property tax rebate.
Kelly said the project would bring jobs that might otherwise go elsewhere, and he was leaning toward approval.
However, “I’m not totally comfortable with the idea of this being a dilapidated building, and I do believe that the owner maintained some responsibility for keeping it from becoming dilapidated, and while he was a partial owner, he was an owner of it,” Kelly said of Compton Wednesday. “That’s the part that makes me uncomfortable.”
Commissioner Shannon Reid said she was struggling to see the real cost benefit and return for the county on this project. She said it was a little hard for her to believe that the project couldn’t go on without the roughly $680,000 in tax breaks.
Commissioner Karen Willey said the lifespan of the tax roll of the project was far longer than the incentives that had been requested, and she said the applicant seeking a 65% NRA rebate rather than 90% helped her.
Ultimately, they voted 2-1 to approve the requests, with Kelly and Willey in favor and Reid opposed.
The city ordinances on the tax breaks will return to the Lawrence City Commission for final consideration at a future meeting.