Mayor Keith Snyder told aldermen the document that would be the
basis of their vote will be complete within the next day or two. He
asked that the council approve holding a re-convened voting session
next Tuesday evening specifically for the TIF vote.
In the meantime, he noted Wanda Lee Rohlfs was in the council
chambers and wished to address the council concerning the matter. He
said even though there would be no vote, she could go ahead and
address her concerns and questions to the council.
Rohlfs took the speaker’s chair and said she had two documents with
her; Lanterman's application for TIF funding and the city of Lincoln
TIF guidelines. She said in comparing the completed application to
the guidelines, she had questions about the application and whether
or not Lanterman’s project qualified for TIF funding.
She first brought to the aldermen’s attention a question on the
application where Lanterman had said the money will be for new
construction. She noted the guidelines say that "new construction"
doesn’t qualify for TIF. She asked the council if that alone did not
make Lanterman ineligible.
Snyder responded by explaining the guideline does allow for
expansion of an existing business, which is what Lanterman will be
Rohlfs countered that the guidelines also say building additions are
not eligible, so once again she wondered how Lanterman’s application
was being approved.
Snyder explained that the guidelines are general language and that
the council has the authority to override the guidelines if the
project otherwise fits the overall plan for the city.
Michelle Bauer commented saying the guideline was just a starting
point. It was specifically written to be flexible. She explained,
“Every project then has a redevelopment agreement and that agreement
doesn’t override necessarily, but can clarify issues within the
Rohlfs then noted a section of the guideline that said the TIF was
not intended to fund specific items. Bauer drew out the words “not
intended” saying, “it’s not intended, (but) that doesn’t mean that
Rohlfs moved on to her next question. In the application, the
question is: (Pdf
question 6 ) “Identify the proposed tenants of the project.
Indicate whether leases have been negotiated and provide the status
of any such negotiations.”
Lanterman had answered the question saying he would install 6 movie
screens inside the building. Rohlfs wanted to know if that meant he
was going to be leasing the screens. Snyder said he had never heard
of leasing a movie screen. Rohlfs agreed, but said she wondered why
Lanterman had put that particular answer in that particular
Jeff Hoinacki said he understood the answer to be an indication
there would be no tenants and Bauer agreed that was what Lanterman
Rohlfs then offered up information she had gleaned from the internet
that indicated the future of movie theaters was on a downhill slide.
She said information posted by the big movie makers such as Disney
indicate the trend is going to continue moving toward home viewing
via pay per view services. She said the information she’d read also
indicated theaters would be charging prices between $20 and $50 per
ticket in order to stay in business.
She said, “I think it is important for us to look at this. How will
this impact our community in the next five to ten years?”
Snyder asked if Rohlfs had read the entire application and she
indicated she had. He then noted that in addition to the TIF
funding, Regions Bank was going to be financing this project for
$4.6 million. He asked Rohlfs if she thought the bank would have
entered into such an agreement if they thought it was high risk.
Rohlfs responded she didn’t know.
Bauer commented next, saying she wasn’t going to say how she would
vote next week on this, but she would comment on Lanterman. She said
she felt Lanterman was an extremely conscientious businessman who
put plenty of thought and research into this project before moving
on it. She also expressed that as a businessman, Lanterman would
stay in tune with the industry and would work to adapt his business
to fit the needs of the local constituents.
She concluded, “I don’t know that he has in his mind 23 years (the
term life of the TIF) from now running a movie theater in that
building. Maybe that is not what that building will be in 23 years;
he can’t predict that either. But for now he knows he can add six
screens and look into a restaurant.”
Rohlfs moved away from the Lanterman application and began a
discussion on the TIF program in general. She said she was not aware
there was a TIF program in Lincoln. She said she didn’t know how
many applications have been received or when the application had
gone on the internet. She knew it was in the budget, but beyond that
she didn’t know anything.
Snyder asked her to clarify what she was saying, and she said there
might have been other people who wanted to apply for this money, but
it was her understanding no one knew it was available until
Lanterman had filed the application.
Snyder reminded Rohlfs that a year ago she had requested the TIF
documents under the freedom of information act and had received
them. He added that the TIF program is for all qualified businesses
and that anyone can apply.
Tom O’Donohue added to this saying the TIF had not been offered
exclusively to Lanterman. He went on to say in regard to the future
of movie theaters, it was the property tax that paid the TIF bond
and as long as the property taxes are paid on the building, it
really didn’t matter what business was inside.
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Rohlfs countered that buildings can sit empty and what would
happen to the taxes then. O’Donohue said taxes are still due on
Rohlfs moved on saying, “Also, there are probably other
businesses that would have applied (for TIF funding), but they
are not aware of it."
O’Donohue said Rohlfs was indicating she thought the city had
chosen Lanterman and ignored other applications.
Rohlfs said she thought there were people who would have applied
for this money, but were not aware it was available.
Snyder then commented, “You make it sound like it’s a zero sum
game; if we approve Lanterman, we reject everyone else, and that
is not the way TIF works."
Melody Anderson spoke up saying perhaps what needs clarified is
that Lanterman’s application was just one application. Anyone
who wishes to benefit from TIF funding can apply, and that
becomes a new matter.
Rohlfs countered that the city is taking this $2.5 million out
in bonds, but what were they going to do if others were to
apply. Would the money come from the interest off this bond, or
would the city do another bond?
It was then that for the second time, Snyder asked Rohlfs if she
truly understood how a TIF works. She said she did. He then
explained that if an applicant can show his or her project will
generate increased property tax, then that tax is what will be
used to fund their project.
In regard to public awareness of the TIF, Marty Neitzel noted
that all three local news sources had covered the creation of
the TIF. “Unless the people in the business district bury their
head in the sand,” she said, “they should know about it.”
Building and safety officer John Lebegue said, in addition
business owners in the district had received letters from the
city advising them of the creation of a TIF District. Kathy Horn
added it was also posted on the city of Lincoln website and
available for anyone who wanted to review it.
In wrapping up the conversation, Snyder asked Rohlfs to state
her position on the motion to move forward with the bond
issuance. He asked her to give him a “for” or “against.”
Rohlfs said she felt the application needed more thought given
to detail. She had researched several TIF Districts around the
state and had reviewed many of their documents. They were much
more specific than the Lincoln application. She said she felt
there needed to be more serious thought involved in the process.
O’Donohue asked what the city should change. Rohlfs noted that
in other cities applications had included photos and drawings of
Snyder asked Lebegue how thick the plan document was for the
theater. Lebegue said it was about three-fourths of an inch
thick, and that going through all the plan had been a long
Rohlfs pointed out she felt there weren’t enough details about
what was going to happen on-site. She wondered where the new six
screens were going inside the theater, and what was to happen to
Dr. Miller’s office building.
Bauer said those details are in the redevelopment plan. She
said, “In order for the application not to be 700 pages long,
all the information you are asking about is in the plan that
goes with this.”
Rohlfs then asked if Lanterman would be eligible for another TIF
down the road. Snyder said that as long as he qualifies for the
TIF, and the idea he brings to the city can show it will
increase the tax increment. If yes, then yes he would be
permitted to file an additional application.
Rohlfs talked about terminology in the application. Lanterman
had indicated he was going to provide a “full service operation”
to the community. Rohlfs said she didn’t know what a full
service theater is.
Snyder responded saying, “If you look at the question, it asks
about encouraging the inflow of customers into the downtown area
question 12). The last part of his answer is that it will
draw out of town customers. So, you can define a full service
operation however you want to define it, but the bottom line is
it is going to be an attraction for out of town people to come
spend their money in Lincoln. I assume you are for that.”
Rohlfs responded, “Yes.”
The discussion ended with a final comment from city treasurer
Chuck Conzo. Referring back to the question of tax values on
empty buildings; he said they indeed could go down, but they
could also go up.
[By NILA SMITH]
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