Lots of sound and fury, that’s for sure.
The city is negotiating a deal with the developer of Washington Heights — a proposed Walmart-anchored shopping center near Interstate 10 and Yale – that would reimburse the local builder for as much as $6 million in public infrastructure improvements.
If the agreement is approved, developer Ainbinder Co. would widen and repave streets surrounding the project, refurbish bridges near the site, develop a bike and pedestrian trail along a stretch of Heights Boulevard south of I-10 and improve underground drainage, among other upgrades.
The improvements are expected to ease traffic congestion as well as prime the area for other future developments, the developer said.
The deal being negotiated is part of a program authorized by the state called a 380 agreement. It allows the city to grant or loan local tax revenue for economic development purposes.
Once the project is built and has met certain performance requirements, Ainbinder would be reimbursed by the city from the increased property taxes or sales taxes created by the development.
Many Heights residents have opposed the plan since they learned of it in early July. On Wednesday night, they continued to voice their concerns about a development they feel is incompatible with their neighborhood.
Besides the nature of Wal-Mart itself, the 380 agreement is probably the least popular aspect of this, from what I’ve observed. It’s bad enough that a Wal-Mart is coming in, the sentiment is, it’s even worse that tax dollars will be used to help them. The city’s position is basically that the 380 is one of the few tools they have to get the developer to do something it wouldn’t otherwise do, which is to say make infrastructure improvements. CultureMap summed this up:
During the Q&A, one Heights resident brought up an interesting scenario. What if they city refused to give The Ainbinder Company the grants through the 380 Agreement and the resulting Houston taxpayer money? Would they still build it?
The answer from Michael Ainbinder was, “Yes.” Except, they wouldn’t have to play nice without the 380 Agreement. They wouldn’t have to make any improvements to the drainage, traffic or plant as many promised trees around the lot.
If that’s true, then the choice is over how they build it. I think too many people still have hope they can kill this to contemplate that choice, however.
My question is what happens if there isn’t any appreciable increase in sales taxes after this gets built, and property values decline as residents fear? In other words, what happens if this Wal-Mart location, which you may recall will have two others not far away as well, fails to generate any of the revenue that the city would use to reimburse it for those infrastructure improvements? Can the city be forced to recompense them anyway out of other revenues, or is it just tough luck for Ainbinder? I hope it’s the latter, but I fear it’s the former. Anybody know the answer?
Here’s what I propose. The executive from WalMart who spoke touted the company’s philanthropic largesse. I’ve been raising money in Houston since 1993, and have yet to secure a gift from WalMart. I’ve known about others who’ve gotten $200 or $300 gift cards, or a box of some supply or another, but nothing on a grand scale.
Time for WalMart to go big and acknowledge that they don’t need corporate welfare to turn a profit.
I’d like to see WalMart donate the cost of the infrastructure improvements back to the city. In essence, the city would not have to pay for the reimbursement to Ainbinder. The city actually has mechanisms in place to accept a financial donation like this. It could then be earmarked for donations to various projects and nonprofits directly affected by development in the central city.
I suspect we can file that under “When pigs fly”, but it would at least end the griping about “my tax dollars” going to Wal-Mart/Ainbinder for this project. You never get if you don’t ask, that’s for sure. Maybe at the next meeting, which a poster on the Stop Heights Wal-Mart page who was there till the bitter end said there would be (location TBD), someone should bring that up. Swamplot and Hair Balls have more.
UPDATE: Here’s another drawing of the proposed site. And see Mike’s comment for the answer to my question about the 380 agreement.