Topeka City leaders explain recent economic development allocations

TOPEKA (KSNT) — Topeka’s leaders hope a new tactic will attract business to the capital city.

Last week, the Joint Economic Development Organization approved half a million dollars in spending to spur development of blighted shopping centers.

That money comes from the county-wide half cent sales tax that voters approved 10 years ago.

“5 million was for economic development, and all the rest was for roads and bridges,” said Councilwoman Karen Hiller.

So a majority of that money is being spent where residents want, on infrastructure, but local leaders say the economic development money is just as important.

“Property is re-developed which means it is improved and that increases the property tax, the value of it. Secondly there are jobs that are created,” said Mayor Larry Wolgast.

But one the board’s latest economic development plana is getting a lot of criticism.

Half a million dollars will go to new or expanding businesses that will move in to a property like the White Lakes Shopping Center and start fixing it up.

KSNT News heard several concerns about that decision, and went to the city to find out more.

Hiller says she wasn’t sold on the plan when the Board voted either.

“I felt like some of those new ideas, which were dead on with what people had been suggesting and wanted to talk about, weren’t well enough formed to make a commitment and just set aside money for them for 2016,” said Hiller.

But she and others are optimistic the money will help shopping centers in the long run.

“We certainly want to bring the improvements to all areas of our community so that everyone can benefit from the sales tax or economic development,” said Wolgast.

The JEDO board will sign off before any of those incentives are spent, and the money has to be used on improvements that will benefit the building, not just the business moving in.

The money has been set aside for use at four specific locations: the White Lakes Shopping Center, California Crossing, Deer Creek Shopping Center, and the former K-Mart on 29th street.

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