Lawrence school board to consider approving tax breaks for Turnhalle building project

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The Lawrence school board on Monday will consider approving tax breaks for a project to revamp the historic building at 900 Rhode Island St. into a community space and restaurant.

Turnhalle LLC — owned by local entrepreneur Mashur Zarif Haque — is requesting a 15-year, 85% Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) tax rebate from the school district. 

Plans for the project include building a 5,000-square-foot community and event space on the first floor in addition to a 4,500-square-foot commercial kitchen and restaurant space. The capital investment is estimated at approximately $4.8 million, according to the agenda item.

“The building, originally constructed in 1869, is the oldest standing community building in the City, and has been the subject of remarkable preservation achievements by a range of City stakeholders,” according to the agenda item.

Sam Camp, economic development analyst for the city; Sheldon Bartel, field director of the National Development Council; and Patrick Watkins, attorney for Turnhalle LLC, will present to the board Monday, according to the agenda.

Their presentation says construction will involve structural improvements; window, floor and exterior rehabilitation; and compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.

The city’s Public Incentives Review Committee on Jan. 24 voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the incentive request with a 70% NRA rebate based on city staff members’ review of a but-for analysis of the project. School district staff members are recommending the school board approve the 70% rebate rather than the 85% developers initially requested.

Development projects seeking tax breaks must gain approval from the city, county and school district, as all three are local taxing jurisdictions. The agenda item values the NRA tax rebate from the school district at about $207,000; however, participating with the Turnhalle project would be at little cost to the district, according to the project’s technical report.

“Impacts of the project on the local school district are insubstantial due to state school financing formulas,” according to the report. “… Analysis also shields the School District capital outlay mill levy of 7.347 from the NRA rebate due to legislative laws.”

Additionally, the company estimates the project will receive approximately $900,000 from State and Federal Historic Tax Credit programs.

The company has also requested an Industrial Revenue Bond (IRB) sales tax exemption on construction materials and labor for the project, as well as a 20-year, 2% additional sales tax through a Community Improvement District (CID) once the building is in use. Sales tax breaks will not affect the school district, however, because schools are financed through property taxes.

Turnhalle LLC has already received the Lawrence City Commission’s and Douglas County Commission’s approval for the 70% NRA rebate. Each entity decides individually whether to participate after hearing a presentation from project partners and holding a public hearing.

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“The Turnhalle Building project produces a very positive cost-benefit ratio to [all the] taxing jurisdictions,” according to the agenda item. “In addition, the development of dilapidated and underutilized parcels 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.”

Assuming the school board approves the district’s portion of tax rebates for the project, the city commission will soon consider approving the proposal on a second reading, likely as part of their consent agenda.

View all materials for the presentation Monday attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs. Learn more about the Turnhalle building on Lawrence Preservation Association’s website, lawrencepreservation.org.

In other business:

• Executive session: Monday’s meeting will conclude with a 45-minute executive session, or closed-door meeting, between the board and Superintendent Anthony Lewis. They’re set to discuss personnel matters of nonelected personnel, the agenda says.

Potential action may follow the executive session.

The school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/@USD497, and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available on BoardDocs, via go.boarddocs.com.

To give public comment during the board meeting, sign up before the meeting starts either in person or by emailing PublicComment@usd497.org. Commenters may request to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Kaw Valley Almanac for April 22-28, 2024

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