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City has more than $3 million in surplus TIF money

I’ve often wondered how much leftover TIF money might be lying around in accounts at city hall – ever since we watched the city allocate $400,000 in surplus TIF to the Centennial Mall renovation.

That TIF money was originally dedicated to sprucing up the mall west of the capitol, not north. But someone noticed there was extra money leftover, and so it was that the city finally found a way to pay for part of a Centennial Mall makeover, too. (Personally, I wish they’d considered using the money for the mall SOUTH of the capitol, Goodhue Boulevard, because I believe that neighborhood could use the revitalization more, but I digress.)

So anyway, in late March, I asked the Urban Development Department how many other TIF districts had that kind of surplus TIF sitting around. I got my answer… three months later. Better late than never, right?

And I’m happy to report that there are indeed a few pots of surplus or leftover TIF. In fact, the city has more than $3 million in surplus TIF money leftover from four downtown redevelopment projects. They are:

• The Grand Theatre and Old Federal Building TIF district has about $1 million more in TIF funds than it has debt, and TIF will continue to accumulate through 2015. The city plans to use the money to improve the P and Q street retail corridor envisioned in the Downtown Master Plan, but there are no designs yet.

• A TIF district from 11th Street to 13th Street downtown has about $1.4 million in TIF funds remaining in the account. However, the city plans to use the money for design and development of a civic plaza at 13th and P streets. Remember where the old Douglas 3 theater was? Which became a parking lot and is now the staging area for WRK and Woodbury Corp.’s “Urban 38” condo project under construction? That’s it. Construction is supposed to be done next summer, although more money will need to be raised to create the plaza, according to Urban Development.

• The city has about $530,000 in surplus TIF from a 1996 Lincoln Star TIF project (you remember the Lincoln Star newspaper, right?). This pot of TIF money was recently the subject of public debate when Urban Development sought to use $400,000 of the money for a streetscape project on M Street from Seventh to 17th streets. The council has not yet approved an amendment to the redevelopment plan that would green-light this project.

• The aforementioned Lincoln Mall TIF has about $400,000 worth of TIF left, and the bond runs through 2016. The money has been dedicated to Centennial Mall already though.

Now I’m no brain surgeon, but it seems to me, the city could look at whether any of this TIF money could be used to help with its budget problems and huge infrastructure shortfall – perhaps by extending the TIF districts to nearby areas that need road improvements, rather than just using it for less-important beautification projects like the M Street proposal. Two of the TIF pots are going to be emptied for what are essentially beautification projects, and the third will create a civic plaza that is about two blocks from the dilapidated Centennial Mall, and about a half-dozen blocks from the new Union Plaza park in Antelope Valley.

So Centennial Mall is now in such bad shape that we need to use an old TIF and whatever money we can shake out of the capitol to fix it up, but we’ve got the money to build a civic plaza two blocks away? And our own Central Park six blocks away?

We do we keep building parks and plazas when we can’t afford to maintain the parks we already have? We can’t fix water fountains on Centennial Mall, we can’t mow grass in many parks and we can’t afford to buy new playground equipment, yet we continue to build more parks. Just sayin.’

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