LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  Just over a month ago, representatives of an Ohio real estate developer told Jefferson County school board members that they could not afford to build two large apartment projects at Broadway and Baxter Avenue unless JCPS gave them tax breaks worth $3.8 million.

It looks like the school board called their bluff.

Edwards Communities, of Columbus, Ohio, said in a letter to the community Thursday that it will move forward with the apartment buildings at the former site of Mercy Academy and the Phoenix Hill Tavern, even without the tax breaks from JCPS.

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“While financial incentives packages are common with urban, in-fill development projects, there is no standard package.  They vary with each municipality in which we do business and are unique to the challenges presented,” Edwards said in the letter. “As such, we have appreciated Louisville’s patience as we worked diligently, but admittedly slowly, to understand the best solution for our projects in the local market.”

The company will still claim up to up to $7.5 million in incentives from Louisville Metro government over 20 years.

But on March 22, a lawyer representing Edwards told the Jefferson County Board of Education that those concessions from Louisville Metro were not enough for the company to build the apartments.

“That, just plain and simple, didn’t generate enough revenue for us to be able to go forward and do this project,” Bill Bardenwerper told the school board.

Bardenwerper had said earlier in the JCPS hearing that “it’s just not possible (for Edwards) to afford” the buildings without the tax breaks.

Then, after school member Stephanie Horne asked directly whether the apartments would be built without the JCPS tax breaks, Charles Musson, another attorney representing Edwards, said: “I don’t see that happening. In talking with the developers -- this is the only mechanism right now that is available to make it happen.”

Additionally, Jon Wood, an executive with Edwards, told WDRB in an email on March 21 that the apartments were “not economically feasible” without incentives and JCPS’ participation “is critical to making the project economically viable.”

Asked Thursday if that statement was truthful, Wood said in email: “We have been exploring various incentive packages, each with different circumstances.  We feel it is important to move forward as these projects are important to Louisville.”

The school board never voted on the Edwards request, which would have exempted the buildings from property taxes in exchange for lower annual payments from Edwards to the school district.

But at the March 22 hearing, school board chairman David Jones Jr. said JCPS should proceed cautiously as the district does not normally entertain tax breaks for economic development.

Jones said he was concerned about potential conflicts with elected school board members giving favors to private interests.

“Everybody would like a tax abatement – lots of projects would like lower taxes,” Jones said. “… It’s a more complicated question when you get elected officials voting on stuff like this -- that has God knows what kind of connections to all different people.”

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