Developer considers 'alternate locations' for water park after Branson denies tax breaks
The team behind a $446 million indoor-outdoor water park and resort concept is considering building the attraction elsewhere after Branson officials voted to deny the developer tax breaks.
In an emailed statement, the CP Branson development team told the News-Leader it is looking at locations outside of Branson.
Tuesday night, the Branson Board of Aldermen voted down a bill, 1-5, which would have allowed the city to set up a tax increment financing plan for water park Branson Adventures and to declare the location of the proposed project — covering 302 acres — blighted.
Essentially, a tax increment financing plan would have meant Branson Adventures, for a limited time, would be able to keep a portion of the additional property and sales tax revenues generated by the new development, instead of paying them to taxing jurisdictions. The development also proposed self-imposing two one-cent sales taxes to fund construction costs.
Branson Adventures sought up to about $116 million, plus interest, in reimbursements over 23 years from the city — nearly 26 percent of the estimated total cost of the development, according to a memo from city staff.
Alderman Betsy Seay told the News-Leader that, including interest, the total would have been $242 million in tax breaks for Branson Adventures.
Seay said she voted against the plan because she felt that the developer was not transparent enough and the plan had several number discrepancies, such as the daily rate for the resort hotel and the cost to build a whitewater rafting adventure.
"To give someone taxpayer dollars and not even know what we were giving it to them for was a problem for me," Seay said. "...The numbers didn't add up and when I would attempt to get answers on questions, I was met, quite honestly, with arrogance and defensiveness."
Seay said she was also concerned that Branson Adventures would steal customers from other existing businesses since they weren't offering any new attractions.
In order to qualify for a tax increment financing plan, a developer must prove that the project meets a "but for" test. They must show that the project would not be financially feasible without tax incentives — which Branson Adventures did.
It's unclear if the developer will proceed with plans to build the water park and resort in Branson without added tax benefits. The News-Leader reached out to David Cushman with CP Branson for comment.
A statement was emailed back on behalf of CP Branson's development team.
"Regarding our next steps and whether we would revise the TIF or build without the TIF, we have no plans to make public at this time; however we are considering alternate locations for our development," the statement said.
There was a request from Cushman to withdraw bills associated with Branson Adventures from the agenda because he was not able to attend Tuesday night's meeting, according to the city's news release. The motion to do so failed 2-4.
More:A new Branson water park would cost $446 million and seeks tax abatement
CP Branson tried to sell the tax increment financing plan on the basis that it was not asking for any existing tax revenue and that taxing jurisdictions would receive a bump from the development's improved property values as well an increase in tourism.
"No existing taxpayer money is proposed to be used to help pay for this project," said a fact sheet on CP Branson's website. "Residents of Branson will not be contributing to the tax revenues being used for the TIF unless they make purchases at the development once it's open."
If Branson Adventures is built, according to the city staff memo, taxing jurisdictions would see an increase of about $229 million in revenues over a 23-year period.
A consultant hired by CP Branson previously called the proposed water park "a project of national importance, a step-change for Branson."
City staff and an 11-member commission representing Taney County's taxing authorities recommended that the board of aldermen approve the tax increment financing plan, according to documents attached to the meeting agenda.
More:Branson commission gives thumbs-up to tax breaks for $446 million water park plan
Opponents of the plan to give tax incentives to Branson Adventures included Branson's hotel industry and some residents, who had expressed worries about how the development would affect existing businesses and public services in the city.
An overview of the project, included in the meeting agenda, portrays an ambitious plan. Branson Adventures intends to build a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park and 55,000-square-foot outdoor water park. The project includes a whitewater adventure park with a rafting course and an Alpine Adventure Zone with an alpine coaster, downhill bike course, ropes course and zip line.
The plan includes a resort with 350 guest suites and 30,000 square feet of meeting and conference spaces, as well as on-site lodging with 215 cabins and a "luxury camping facilities" with 75 recreational vehicle campsites.
Branson Adventures estimated that it would create 991 full-time on-site jobs in its first year and nearly 1,300 jobs by year five.
The $116 million requested in Branson Adventures' plan includes the following sources of public revenue:
- $79,703,862 from money captured through a tax increment financing plan
- $5,165,168 from the city of Branson's "non-captured portion of sales tax revenues"
- $6,342,429 from the city of Branson's "non-captured portion of tourism tax revenues"
- $1,972,819 from the city of Branson's "non-captured portion of overnight accommodation sales tax revenues"
- $5,190,707 from the city of Branson's "non-captured portion of overnight accommodation tourism tax revenues"
- $8,640,508 from the "non-captured portion of CID 1 percent sales tax revenues"
- $8,640,508 from the "non-captured portion of TDD 1 percent sales tax revenues"