Massive biotech office park planned for south Kansas City to seek tax breaks

Backers of a proposed biotech office park in south Kansas City are preparing to seek tax breaks for the 350-acre project.

The Kansas City Star ( ) reports that the project, Called Oxford on the Blue because of its proximity to the Blue River, would be bigger than Sprint's headquarters or Corporate Woods in Overland Park, Kansas.

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The city's Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee is set to consider a property tax abatement for the project on Sept. 10. If approved, the changes would face a final vote by the Kansas City Council the next day.

Whitney Kerr Sr., a longtime Kansas City area broker who worked to assemble the land, said the tax break is needed to bring research firms, clinical trial facilities and similar biotech operations to the site. The land and idea belong to James E. Stowers III, who has been involved in assorted ventures since leaving American Century Investments, the mutual fund company his father founded. His development is not connected with the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City.

Several council members said they thought Stowers' development would prevail.

"I can't speak for my colleagues, but there is a positive vibe about the project," said Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo, who was elected at large from the district where Oxford on the Blue sits.

But others, including school district officials, question whether it would extend tax incentives too far.

They note that the proposal calls for building the office park near where Cerner Corp. plans to build a $4.2 billion campus that could house 15,000 employees when completed in 2024. Tax breaks already have been approved for the Cerner project.

"I have no problem with people wanting to purchase land and bring jobs to Kansas City," Councilman Russ Johnson said, while adding that he didn't think every project deserves a tax break.

Allan Markley, superintendent of Raytown, sees Cerner's project as the area's flagship development, unlikely to come to south Kansas City without tax incentives but boosting other projects that follow.

"When you have some big project like that, it's supposed to spawn development around it," Markley said. He asked: "Does the validity (for tax incentives) exist to the same degree for Stowers' project ... with Cerner sitting over there?"