Joseph Steelman
The Kansas City Star recently wrote that the Power and Light redevelopment project in downtown Kansas City will cost more than originally planned. The city originally lent the project $295 million, but now estimates that it will cost taxpayers another $230 million by 2033.

The project, cast as a "self-sustaining venture," has had trouble occupying its 511,000 square feet of retail space. City planners blame the vacancy on the downturn of the economy. Without a fully occupied site, the project is having trouble recapturing the tax dollars originally allocated to finance the project.

This is not to say that the project was a failure, but rather to point out the difficulty in predicting its success. Of the original $295 million, $212 million was used to rebuild infrastructure around the project area (which could more readily be considered a legitimate expense). Many of my friends love the Power and Light District as a weekend hangout, but rosy projections and rationalization won't save taxpayers any money.

A perfect example of the inherent fallacy of utilizing a centralized plan is found in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book The Black Swan. He writes:
The inability to predict outliers implies the inability to predict the course of history, given the share of these events in the dynamics of events.

Governments who believe they have a better chance than individuals of predicting future events have the tendency to be vastly irresponsible, and the bill almost always lands at the feet of the taxpaying public.

As plans like Kansas City's Power and Light District come together, they are sold to the public in the most favorable light with the most favorable projections. Unfortunately, those projections almost never translate in the real world. Public projects usually cost more than expected and produce less.

The fact remains that the project has been undertaken, and I believe City Manager Troy Schulte put it best:
“20-20 hindsight is always good, but I’d tell taxpayers to come down and enjoy downtown, because you’re paying for it,” he said.

About the Author

Joseph Steelman