Commission may not make payment on Zona Rosa parking garages this year

The ongoing public safety debate wasn’t the only item of note on the Platte County Commission’s agenda Monday. During discussions of an ordinance amendment, commissioners made the formal announcement they would not make the end-of-year payment on the Zona Rosa parking garages unless its new owner presents commissioners with a “long-term sustainable plan.”

Financial problems at the Zona Rosa shopping district have been in the headlines since late last year when Olshan Properties, the current owner of Zona Rosa, drew upon a letter of credit to cover a bond payment. Zona Rosa has been up for sale for some time, and while a new owner is rumored to be on the horizon, no deal has yet been signed.

Commissioners have approved several ordinance amendments over the last few months with the intent to stop future commissions from backing private business ventures with county funds. At the Monday, Aug. 20 administrative session, commissioners unanimously approved another amendment, establishing “a requirement that the voters of the county approve any action by the county commission to to obligate the county in any fashion to use the full faith and credit of Platte County to assume or guarantee any type of obligation involving the acquisition and renovation of real property.”

Members of the audience sought clarification on this wordy order, which presiding commissioner Ron Schieber said would offer additional protection to county taxpayers and help protect the county’s credit rating.

Standard and Poor’s downgraded the county’s rating from AA- to A in May in reaction to the situation at Zona Rosa, where the mortgage went into default earlier this year.

During its initial development and 2007 expansion, road work in and around Zona Rosa was funded through a Transportation Development District, TDD. While the original TDD funding was created through an agreement with the City of Kansas City, in 2007 Platte County joined in as well on a two-to-one vote of the then-commission. This has brought Platte County into a tight place, as it backed the bonds paying for construction of the parking garages, and most believed this meant they could be stuck paying for them.

During additional discussions Monday, commissioners said the county had no legal requirement to make the payment, and so therefore would not, unless the new owners made a good case for it.

“Without a long-term, sustainable plan it make absolutely no sense to throw taxpayer dollars on something that’s going to be between $17-30 million dollars over a long period of time,” Schieber said. “Certainly the developers aren’t going to do that — no developer is going to come in without a long-term plan. This is purely a private development that government got involved in that they shouldn’t have.”

Auditor Kevin Robinson said Standard and Poor’s would need to be notified of this statement of position by the commissioners.