Thursday, August 14, 2008

Retail subsidies for the rugged outdoorsman set

I'd bet my best bird dog (if I kept one anymore ... her name was Sadie) the average Bubba or Bubbette waddling into one of the several Bass Pro Shops in Alabama frowns on "welfare" yet they don't realize that where they are shopping is at least partially on the dole. I'd recently read David Cay Johnson's Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) so I was wise to the racket. Here's a small sample via Reason.

I came to this theme by reading Bass Pro megastore opens its doors from Kathy Jumper, the Mobile Press-Register's Real Estate Editor. This last Sunday she shared New retail opening despite national slump. In June Ms. Jumper filed Bass Pro Shop taking shape for late August opening. In the P-R I also found Kaija Wilkinson's Bass Pro seeks employees from May of this year.

In alternatives to the M P-R I find Staubach given key to city at ‘roof raising’ for Bass Pro Shops from Kathy Ferniany. Way back in 2004 there's Spanish Fort to become retail mecca - overnight: Mega-shopping, including state's first Bass Pro Shops store, coming soon to Baldwin County from Birmingham Business Journal's Gilbert Nicholson.

I noted some coverage of the tax incentives the fryling Johnny Morris grew into a lunker reeled in from Baldwin County and surely the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance isn't shy about telling prospective developers what's available. I figured Roger the Dodger and/or his Cypress Equities got a little help from Baldwin County. Reckon who all else got a taste? Ms. Jumper has reported:

The city of Spanish Fort created a capital improve ment district to borrow about $30 million to finance construction of roads, utilities and other infrastructure improvements for the Cypress Equities project. A special tax on sales in the shopping center is targeted to pay off the debt.

I'm going to need to pass on that "special tax on sales" language as I've got a feeling she's writing of Tax Increment Financing yet I might need to first ask somebody that knows all this backwards and forwards. Going back to 2004 we can locate the following:

"The Bass Pro Shops transaction is a private transaction between Cypress and Bass," Harrington (Scott Harrington was then the Atlanta managing partner in Atlanta) said. "It has been made very clear to us that the city of Spanish Fort has no money or any appetite for liability in the project. There is no cash available. We are currently making arrangements to meet with city officials and the Planning Commission to commence our rezoning and discuss the project as a whole.
So Spanish Fort had no money but went out and borrowed millions. In today's economy? Well played rich folks! Hell, in the time I started this post I've found yet another piece from today's paper on one of these deals in the M P-R related to a Gulf Shores development. The hits just keep on coming!

Bass Pro Shops also has projects open or being built in Prattville, Leeds/Moody/St. Clair County, and Decatur/Morgan County. Lots of folks have a stake in those efforts. I guarantee you some banks, attorneys, ... are cashing in. The Prattville Chamber at least admit to the costs. As does Prattville's Mayor. The Leeds/Moody project has just hit a stumble yet I'm sure those in the know, and most importantly dialed in to the levers of power, will soldier on. In North Alabama the incentives are there as well. Sweetwater is indeed getting a sweet deal.

I can only imagine what small outfitters think of being sold down the river but I also wonder what citizens would think if they realized what they'd lost. Giving Away the Store to Get a Store: Tax increment financing is no bargain for taxpayers from Daniel McGraw via Reason is a good jumping off point. Curbing Corporate Welfare plus their Big Box Tool Kit from New Rules, an effort of The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, are other resources I'll send you to for more information. John Gunn

No comments: