The Wichita City Council said no on Tuesday to a community improvement district at Kellogg and Rock Road.
And after the vote, the council put the entire issue of CIDs back on the table, setting another debate for June on the criteria developers will have to meet to levy the additional fees.
The council split 3-3 with council member Paul Gray abstaining to defeat a motion by council member Sue Schlapp supporting the CID. It would have financed a third of $53 million in planned improvements to the Eastgate shopping center, on the southeast corner of Kellogg and Rock Road.
The tie vote killed Schlapp's motion, city attorney Gary Rebenstorf said.
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Then, the council voted 4-2, with Gray abstaining, for a deferral of the request, including a commitment from the council to home in on the definition of acceptable CID candidates during a June study.
Korb Maxwell, a spokesman for TMC Eastgate LLC, owners of Eastgate, was non-committal about the future of the CID request, saying owners Tom and Mike Boyd and Christian Ablah "will have to discuss our options and figure out where we take this."
"We're obviously disappointed in the decision of the council," Maxwell said. "We thought we articulated a clear public purpose for the use of a CID, things that could be achieved by the use of a CID that could not be achieved though private means out there."
The Eastgate CID would generate a maximum of $18.5 million from an additional 1 percent fee that would have been collected by the center's tenants over 22 years.
Those proceeds, by Kansas law, could be used by the developers for facade and tenant improvements, and a parking lot upgrade.
According to Maxwell, all of the Eastgate tenants — save Toys R Us, which owns its building — have signed off on the CID.
But that wasn't enough for several council members, who worried aloud that "if we're collecting taxes, it should be for a public purpose," in the words of Janet Miller.
Instead, Miller said she could find no public purpose served by the Eastgate CID.
"The area doesn't need retail," she said. "They're not removing blight. The center is 90 percent leased...
"We're establishing a pattern here. Without a public purpose, this is just another way to finance improvements."
Schlapp sided with the Boyds, acknowledging the value of the center to east-side retail and the difficulty all developers face obtaining commercial credit since the economy tanked in 2008.
Allen Bell, the city's urban development director, told council members that the Eastgate CID meets the current set of city criteria.
But Mayor Carl Brewer, who supported the Eastgate request, acknowledged that his fellow council members weren't happy with those criteria.
"We need to define what it is we intend to use this for, so we don't send the business sector out on a wild goose chase," Brewer said.