Sentiment ran strong on two sides last night as City Council members and some in the development community debated whether to provide more or less of a City Hall tax break to the developer of a proposed upscale, suburban-style, office and retail project off Blairs Ferry and Edgewood roads NE.
Three of the other eight council members agreed with Mayor Ron Corbett that project developer Joe Ahmann should be given the tax incentive he is seeking on the $34 million project. Ahmann is asking for a reimbursement of property taxes over five years on the new investment that he makes in the project, which the city estimates could amount to $3.7 million.
Council member Monica Vernon said Ahmann’s development plans call for mixing restaurants and retail shops with large office buildings in an attractive setting, which she said employers consider “the new normal” and which Cedar Rapids has little of.
Don Karr said Cedar Rapids has been “in second place and third place for too long,” and he said supporting the proposal was a “progressive” step. The buildings, which Ahmann calls The Fountains, will generate tax revenue for the city long after the incentives expire, Karr said.
And Justin Shields said he agreed with Dennis Jordan, a strategist for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, who said the city is losing employers because it has too little higher-end office space.
Pat Shey and Scott Olson, though, both questioned whether the tax breaks sought by Ahmann were too broad. Shey said the city needed to provide incentives on certain projects, “But where do we draw the line?”
Olson said he would favor some incentive for Ahmann’s project, but the size of this tax break was not fair to other commercial property owners who have built without incentives. Local developer Hunter Parks said the incentives would let Ahmann price rents below market rate and “create tenant piracy.”
The council will make a decision at a later meeting on the size of the tax break for Ahmann.