After the Deluge

Since the Flood of 93, Chesterfield boosters have used millions in public money to raise a levee and turn the bottomlands into a boomtown. But betting against the river is risky business.

No discord existed among members of the two groups. Everybody favored maximizing floodplain development. To accomplish their unified goal, though, the task-force members had to figure out a way to finance the rebuilding of the levee and receive federal assistance without being encumbered by federal environmental laws and guidelines. They came up with an ingenious approach.

The foreword of the 1993 county report states that Chesterfield was leaning toward local financing to kick-start the project. A cost-benefit analysis, which was folded into the report, projected that reconstruction of the levee would require $16 million to $25 million but would ultimately generate more than $2 billion in "private, job-related investment." If Chesterfield waited for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to authorize a federal project, the report noted, seven to 10 years might elapse before such a plan received congressional approval. "The time to act is now!" the report urged. "Chesterfield Valley needs to seize the initiative and take immediate steps toward regaining a positive image in the market place." The report recommended that the city take a fast-track approach that would avoid delays associated with the federal regulatory process. Such an expedited approach would carry an additional advantage -- the cost of the project could be significantly reduced because the levee would not need to comply with the Corps' rigid specifications.

Circumventing the federal rules didn't mean foregoing federal funding, however. "It may be possible to obtain congressional appropriations for partial reimbursement of the cost for a private levee, under certain circumstances," the report concluded. "This possibility will be enhanced if congressional authorization can be obtained." The county and city plans outlined an ambitious redevelopment program, including the allocation of $68 million in new infrastructure improvements. An estimated $25 million of that money would be needed to raise the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee. At this early date, both ad hoc committees recommended using tax-increment financing (TIF) to fund the infrastructure improvements.

More than $11 million in TIF funds has been spent by Chesterfield to build the Boone's Crossing interchange, which provides shoppers access to Chesterfield Commons.
Jay Fram
More than $11 million in TIF funds has been spent by Chesterfield to build the Boone's Crossing interchange, which provides shoppers access to Chesterfield Commons.
It may have been the burrowing of moles that caused the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee to collapse in 1993, or the roots of a large tree. Nobody really knows for sure.
Jay Fram
It may have been the burrowing of moles that caused the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee to collapse in 1993, or the roots of a large tree. Nobody really knows for sure.

The Chesterfield City Council wasted no time, establishing a TIF district in the valley by October 1994. Under the state TIF statute, a municipality can blight an area and then designate it a redevelopment district. This allows the city to issue bonds to pay for necessary improvements. The debt is then amortized -- for up to 23 years -- by earmarking half the increases in applicable sales and property taxes generated by the new development.

A law originally intended to aid economically depressed inner-city neighborhoods was invoked to help develop one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the region. Chesterfield's $72.5 million TIF scheme pays for most of the levee and road improvements that have lured developers to the area. More than $11 million in TIF funds has already been spent by Chesterfield to build the Boone's Crossing interchange, which provides shoppers easy access to more than 4,000 free parking spaces at Chesterfield Commons.

As part of the deal, Chesterfield has signed a complicated intergovernmental agreement with the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee District, which so far has resulted in the city's allocating about $28 million to improve the levee and build an internal drainage system in the valley. With about half of the flood-protection work completed, the levee district and the city are now wagering that the project will ultimately be approved by the Corps and therefore receive federal funding. The Corps gave its tentative approval in August, and Congress is expected to make a final decision before the end of the year.

In essence, the TIF funnels property- and sales-tax dollars back to the levee district, which represents the landowners in the valley. The money is then used by the district to build a higher levee. Building a higher levee prompts renewed investment in valley real estate, and property values jump. The Corps then uses the increased property values to justify federal subsidization. The federal money cuts down the local cost. It's the proverbial "win-win" situation, reserved for those savvy enough to know how to work the system.

In this case, the Chesterfield Community Development Corp. (CCDC), the city's economic-development agency, oversees the valley's TIF district. Indeed, the government authorities vested in the two entities are so intertwined that it's hard to tell them apart. CCDC has a 12-member board of directors, half of whom also sit on the six-member TIF commission.

Rudy Stinnett, a Chesterfield real-estate broker and TIF commissioner, says the commission is acting out of civic responsibility and duty. "We look at it from a local standpoint," says Stinnett. "I think the way we used the TIF was a proper way to do it. I believe it's been put to a good use, and good things are happening in the valley, and it's going to help a lot of people. We did it mainly to broaden our economic tax base for the city. The key to it was getting the levee rebuilt and recertified, which we did. That made developers want to come to the valley."

In addition to sitting on the TIF Commission, Stinnett belongs to Chesterfield Civic Progress, a business organization. He also sells real estate for Gundaker Realty, the developer of Chesterfield Town Centre and Chesterfield Business Park. The cost of those two valley projects is estimated to be more than $100 million. William Devers, a vice president of Gundaker, also belongs to Chesterfield Civic Progress and another influential business group, the Chesterfield Valley 2000 Coalition.

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