What’s likely about to happen at the Mall at Greece Ridge Center is along the same lines. Wilmorite stands to get $3.6 million in property, sales and mortgage tax abatements over the next 30 years. Many restaurants in town (or their landlords) don’t get this kind of help, but we’ve gotten numb to subsidies for the big box retailers.
Unfair competition is one reason skeptics oppose tax breaks for retail. Another reason is the jobs are often part-time and pay low wages. Finally, unless retail is in an economically disadvantaged place, the development is likely to occur anyway. (Wilmorite has said in the past, it cannot do these types of mall upgrades and stay competitive in the industry without taxpayer help.)
Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First said this country has a glut of retail space. “Retail isn’t economic development. The only time (incentives) are justified, is a neighborhood that’s been demonstrably red-lined.”
West Ridge Road, packed with businesses, isn’t a disadvantaged and isolated neighborhood. Meanwhile Greece and other municipalities and school districts are squeezed for cash.
A 2011 study found St. Louis spent billions on retail incentives with very few gains in jobs or sales tax. The problem is we don’t suddenly have more money to spend just because more stores open.
“If you want retail to succeed, make sure people have good paychecks,” said LeRoy.
But then you look at Medley Centre and ask, “If this project doesn’t happen at Greece Ridge, will we end up with another Medley Centre?”
I don’t know. But it’s legitimate to ask what is the role of the taxpayer.