Ward 2 Alderman Ed Kopff has been on the board two years, and says he’d like to finish what he started.
He’s referring, of course, to the stalled Kenrick Plaza redevelopment project and the contingent efforts to salvage Shrewsbury’s troubled financial prospects should the project not come together. The Walmart-anchored redevelopment plan has been the most contentious local issue in Shrewsbury in recent years, but Kopff stands behind it as the best option to bring in sales tax revenue to sustain the city’s dwindling coffers.
“If this development doesn’t come through, what can we do to gain some time before we eat through all our reserves?” Kopff said in an interview, referencing Shrewsbury’s continuing budget deficit. “If we don’t address it now, these reserves will be gone. We’ll be in a really horrible position.”
In his home life Kopff, originally from South St. Louis City, works as an implementation specialist for a division of ING. His wife is a Shrewsbury native and daughter of a former city alderman. When their daughter was born, the pair moved back to St. Louis from Florida, eventually settling in Shrewsbury six years ago.
“I tell people I’ve married into Shrewsbury,” Kopff joked.
When former alderman Ed Purvis ran against now mayor Felicity Buckley in 2010, Kopff said other members of the board encouraged him to run. He won the seat unopposed.
Kopff cites the negotiations with developer G J Grewe to redevelop blighted Kenrick Plaza as the most memorable experience on the board. Despite the potential to bring in significant sales tax revenue, some residents have been reluctant about bringing in the oft-criticized Wal-Mart corporation into Shrewsbury. Kopff said he’s heard these critiques but disagrees.
“I know there are people who have their dislikes of Walmart. I don’t have a dislike of Walmart,” Kopff said.
Others have questioned the need to provide Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money to Grewe and a wealthy corporation like Wal-Mart. But Kopff argues that TIF is necessary to make sure the project is completed in a way that satisfies residents.
“With TIF we can act like we have more of a say in it,” Kopff said. “Becaues of TIF’s involvement, we can even address things like delivery hours.”
Perhaps more importantly, Kopff said he doesn’t think any redevelopment can happen at Kenrick without TIF money.
“It’s like any investment: you have to make sure you do your homework,” Kopff said, stressing that he’s done a great deal of research on his own before coming to his opinions about the redevelopment project. In the end he said he hopes the project can get back on track.
“I actually thought we were pretty close before the problem with the wires came down,” he added. Grewe originally believed the guy wires of a nearby radio tower which anchor in the plaza could be moved, but has since had to undertake a redesign of the redevelopment plan to avoid them instead, stalling the project.
If the project doesn’t go through, Kopff said he would want the board to consider asking voters to support a property tax increase, one with a sunshine clause to expire after five years. The alternative would be serious cuts to city services such as the police and fire departments, or at least reorganization of services under a public safety department, which Kopff said he would consider if it saved money.
“I think (the services) are what makes Shrewsbury special. We definitely want to keep them,” he stressed. “No idea is too crazy,” he added.
Though much of Shrewsbury’s politics during Kopff’s term has focused on the budget and redevelopment, that wasn't the only thing he accomplished. It was Kopff who brough the idea of an ordinance to allow and regulate urban chickens to the board, after a resident approached him about it.
This is the first time Kopff has run for reelection, and unlike his first election he now has an opponent.
“John comes to the meetings, he’s very respectful,” Kopff said of his opponent. “We pretty much feel the same.”
The election is today, Tuesday, April 3.