Bonner Springs to receive grant to revitalize downtown

Bonner Springs will receive a $75,000 grant to revitalize old downtown buildings, according to a news release from Gov. Laura Kelly.

It was one of 15 projects approved across Kansas communities to receive the Historic Economic Asset Lifeline grant.

HEAL was created in 2021 as a partnership between the Patterson Family Foundation and the Department of Commerce. The first round of HEAL grants resulted in 32 commercial buildings being rehabilitated.

“I have long believed that when you make downtowns attractive, safe places to be, more businesses, better jobs, and greater community follow,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “That’s why my administration has worked to bring life back into our town squares by resurrecting the Kansas Main Street program and by pursuing this partnership with the Patterson Family Foundation.”

Interest in the program remains strong. A total of 30 applications were received during the latest HEAL grant round.

“Active downtown areas give a sense of place to small communities,” said Lindsey Patterson Smith, president of the Patterson Family Foundation. “We were happy to join the Department of Commerce and its partners in helping create new opportunities through revitalization.”

The spring 2023 HEAL round will open Feb. 15 and close March 31. An informational webinar will be offered via Zoom at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 2. Register for the webinar and find more information about the spring 2023 HEAL program at

Americans for Prosperity urges attorney general to investigate Kansas open record requests

KORA dispute centers on commerce secretary’s emails on STAR bond program

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — A conservative political organization wants the Kansas attorney general to investigate the state Department of Commerce’s response to record requests with an emphasis on the alleged failure to promptly and fully disclose information about a category of business tax incentives.

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation of Kansas submitted a request in 2021 under the Kansas Open Records Act for a trove of Department of Commerce documents, communications and reports regarding STAR bonds. State Tax and Revenue bond financing is available to municipalities for commercial, entertainment and tourism projects.

State law requires bonds for these economic development projects to be repaid by a city or county with the increase in sales tax revenue collected in the associated STAR bond business district. Once STAR bond debt has been eliminated, the full amount of sales taxes in the district goes to state and local governments.

The foundation, which also invested in a legal fight before the U.S. Supreme Court to limit disclosure of donor information to nonprofits, received from the commerce department a portion of requested internal or external studies or reports, feasibility studies and emails associated with STAR bonds.

The Department of Commerce has not yet released emails tied to David Toland, the commerce secretary and lieutenant governor to Gov. Laura Kelly. The state commerce secretary has direct control over issuance of STAR bonds.

“It shouldn’t take more than a year to access public records from a state agency running a corporate welfare program with over $1 billion worth of bonds,” said Elizabeth Patton, the state director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation in Kansas. “If commerce is slow-walking KORA request responses because of perceived political sensitivities, it should be held accountable.”

‘Voluminous documents’

Patrick Lowry, spokesman for the Department of Commerce, said the original KORA request from the Americans for Prosperity organization in November 2021 sought “voluminous documents,” including every internal and external report dealing with STAR bonds from 2007 to present.

The request sought every STAR bond feasibility study during the 15-year period. Finally, the request asked for all emails regarding STAR bonds from Jan. 1, 2021, to Sept. 1, 2021, sent or received by the commerce department’s secretary, chief of staff and chief counsel.

“The commerce legal team, as well as clerical and IT staff, have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past 12 months working to fulfill this request,” Lowry said. “We have been in regular contact with the requestor, updating them of our progress.”

During the past year, he said, the commerce department reviewed tens of thousands of pages and examined tens of thousands of emails. Potentially relevant items were identified, scanned, sorted, printed and reviewed prior to analysis to determine which ones would be disclosed.

Lowry said 1,500 pages of information was delivered to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation in separate batches on Feb. 7, March 4 and April 29. The final bundle of approximately 1,000 documents was under review and would be delivered as soon as practical, he said.

He said work on the KORA request occurred at the same time the commerce department was advancing economic development projects. The list included work on the $4 billion Panasonic Energy electric vehicle battery manufacturing facility, which is the largest economic development project in state history, and 275 business agreements with companies that created or retained 13,500 jobs in Kansas.

Kevin Schmidt, director of investigations for the Texas-headquartered Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said the Department of Commerce sent the organization a dozen letters noting extensions of time needed to comply with the KORA request. He said those communications fell short of outlining in detail the necessity for delay.

“Why are we waiting so long for those records?” Schmidt said.

STAR bond audit

The Legislature authorized use of sales tax revenue for STAR bonds in 1993. In 2021, a report by the auditing division of the Kansas Legislature said an evaluation of 16 STAR bond projects supporting museums, racetracks and other attractions found only three projects fulfilled the Department of Commerce’s primary objective of elevating tourism among long-distance and out-of-state visitors.

The state has approved more than $1.1 billion in STAR bonds, including the successful mega-development at Village West in Wyandotte County. Supporters of STAR bonds have pointed to the shopping, entertainment and sports complex as the high-water mark of the bonding program.

In a separate review of STAR bond viability by the Legislature’s auditors, analysts considered how long it might take for the state to recoup sales tax revenue surrendered to support economic development projects. Auditors selected the Hutchinson salt mine, the Overland Park Prairie Fire Museum and the Wichita Sports Forum to test how those projects measured up to state’s opportunity cost of investing tax revenue in STAR bonds.

State taxpayers could expect to be made whole on the Hutchinson development after 2057, auditors said. The estimate was more promising for Prairie Fire, because sales tax revenue could pay off bonds after 2046. The sports forum might get there by 2030.

Patton, of the Kansas organization of Americans for Prosperity, said the STAR bond program was of public interest because it involved government picking business “winners and losers.” Government investments such as STAR bonds “incentivize unproductive behaviors of politicians and businesses who prioritize their gains over the true needs of those they serve,” she said.

“Between citizens’ eroded faith in the system and documented failures of the program, we think hardworking Kansans and their families deserve to know whether their tax dollars are being wasted on the program,” Patton said.

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BPU to receive $2 million grant for electric distribution feeder

The Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities will receive a $2 million grant for construction of a new electrical distribution feeder in support of a new business under development, according to an announcement from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced recently that the department’s Economic Development Administration is investing to construct infrastructure needed to support new business development in Kansas. The grants are funded by the American Rescue Plan.

The EDA grant will be matched by $746,411 in local funds and is expected to create 936 jobs and generate $216 million in private investments, according to estimates.

“The Economic Development Administration is dedicated to working with communities to support their locally-driven strategies to recover and rebuild from the pandemic,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo said.

“These investments will create hundreds of jobs, grow our economy, and give Kansas businesses more of the tools they need to grow and succeed,” Gov. Laura Kelly said.

“One of my top priorities over the past two years has been to make sure Kansans have the resources needed to get back to work, support their families, and contribute to our ever-growing local economy,” U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-3rd Dist., said. “This EDA funding I helped bring to our state through the American Rescue Plan will do just that, while also supporting our water and electrical infrastructure. I will keep working to lower costs and ensure a thriving economy in the Kansas City area and across the entire state.”

The BPU investment was made possible by the regional planning efforts of the Mid-America Regional Council. EDA funds these organizations to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment and create jobs, a spokesman stated.

This project is funded under EDA’s American Rescue Plan Economic Adjustment Assistance program, which makes $500 million in Economic Adjustment Assistance grants available to American communities. The Economic Adjustment Assistance program is EDA’s most flexible program, and grants made under this program will help hundreds of communities across the nation plan, build, innovate, and put people back to work through construction or non-construction projects designed to meet local needs. Effective May 26, 2022, EDA has officially closed all of its American Rescue Plan programs for applications. The $3 billion program funding will be awarded on a rolling basis through Sept. 30, 2022.