At Mission candidate forum, tax incentives, Gateway dominate discussion

Ward IV candidates Sollie Flora (standing) Bill Nichols and incumbent Suzie Gibbs (far right) were among the participants in Tuesday's forum.
Ward IV candidates Sollie Flora (standing) Bill Nichols and incumbent Suzie Gibbs (far right) were among the participants in Tuesday’s forum.

The candidates looking to help shape the future of Mission over the coming four years on Tuesday shared their views on development of downtown, the city’s use of tax incentives, and what they hope to see out of the Mission Gateway project.

At a forum hosted by the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and the Shawnee Mission Post held at the Sylvester Powell, Jr., Community Center, governing body candidates in both contested and uncontested races discussed a range of issues facing the city, including whether the proposed multi-family housing proposals that have come before the council in recent months are a good fit for the Johnson Drive corridor.

Councilman Ron Appletoft, who is running unopposed to be the next mayor, said the proposals fit with the vision the council developed back in the early 2000s, when he was in his first stint on the governing body. The EPC Real Estate Group development moving forward on Johnson Drive is the kind of project the council seemed to envision when it set forth its goals for the remaking of the central corridor back then, Appletoft said.

“Part of that plan was to bring more traffic downtown,” he said. “I do believe that these…multifamily developments that are coming are part of the development we wanted.”

But others urged caution as the city vetted such proposals. Hillary Parker-Thomas, who is running against Burton Taylor for the seat being vacated by Tom Geraghty, said that having worked as an educator, she was concerned with the effects that using tax increment financing for such projects would have on school finances in the coming years, though she supported efforts to bring more residents downtown. Arcie Rothrock, who is seeking reelection to her Ward 2 seat, said she supported the EPC project, but had voted against it because she didn’t support the tax incentives plan.

The three candidates vying for the Ward IV seat held by incumbent Suzie Gibbs for more than three decades had slightly different views on the matter. Gibbs said she agreed with Appletoft that the EPC project was a great reflection of the vision the council developed in the 2000s. Bill Nichols said that he was cautious about such projects, pointing to the proposal for a multi-story apartment building on Martway as an example of a project that was a poor fit for the surrounding neighborhoods. (The planning commission rejected the initial project proposal late last month). Sollie Flora said she believed the council needed to take a hard look at each such proposal on a case-by-case basis to ensure it was a good fit for the area and a proper use of tax incentives.

As for the long-stalled Mission Gateway development, both incumbents and the newcomers seemed to agree that there was a bright spot on the horizon at last. The incorporation of hotels into the project plan would be a significant benefit to the community, many argued, and

Thomas said she believed the council would have to be willing to hold developer Tom Valenti’s “feet to the fire” to make sure the project got completed.

Taylor said he was hopeful that the project would be something that “reinforces that this is going to be a good place to live, grow our families and play.”

Current members of the council hinted that recent meetings with Valenti about what might go into to two buildings tentatively reserved for “entertainment” tenants had been encouraging.

“Stay tuned,” Gibbs said. “I think you’re in for a big surprise.”

Steve Betzold, who had filed to run against Arcie Rothrock for the Ward 2 seat, informed the Shawnee Mission Post shortly before the event was scheduled to begin that because of a change to his responsibilities at his job, he had decided not to actively pursue the seat.


Hillary Parker Thomas and Burton Taylor are vying for the Ward I seat.
Hillary Parker Thomas and Burton Taylor are vying for the Ward I seat.
Ron Appletoft is running unopposed for mayor.
Ron Appletoft is running unopposed for mayor.