Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Whither Wal-Mart?

An astute reader left an insightful comment about the Wal-Mart project:
My concern about the whole thing is if and when Wal-Mart moves, what happens to the gargatuan building they will leave behind? What is left will be yet another empty big box building to go along with the Dominicks at Otter Creek.
This is a good point. Instead of just going along or accepting minor concessions--or even imagined concessions--from Wal-Mart, the city might use the controversy to exact material concessions that address this issue and the general issue of vacant "big box" stores. They might demand, for example, that before it breaks ground on the new site, Wal-Mart must have a contract in hand for the redevelopment of the old site by a reputable retailer. And I still think they should demand market studies for other sites in the city. In any case, it would be reassuring if the city adhered to an informal policy of 1) not constructing any new "big box" stores if vacant ones exist, and 2) not building on agricultural land when infill opportunities exist.

I had mistakenly said that the city stood to lose a total of $14M in tax revenues over 10 years. I had forgotten that the figure they reported didn't represent a figure for a net gain in taxes; it didn't take account of the loss in tax revenue from the to-be-closed Wal-Mart. The actual figure should be somewhat less than half what I reported, a relatively small figure in comparison to the $20+ million per year Grand Victoria contributes to Elgin's treasury, and not much more than the cost of building the latrines etc. in Festival Park.

Though Robert Gilliam seems to have decided which way he's going to go, there's enough controversy that another motion to table would be warranted until a broader consensus in the community can be reached.

On the imagined concession I mentioned in the first paragraph (from the Courier):
Councilman Thomas Sandor said that while Gilliam is "wise" to be concerned about development of the outlying lots, the council need not ask Wal-Mart to agree to restrictions in order to control what kinds of businesses locate there. Instead, council members could simply turn down proposed stores if they wished, he said.

"Outlot restrictions, although helpful, are something we already have the ability to regulate," he said, adding that he has no doubt the company will agree to Gilliam's request.


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