Best Buy in Ellisville, which is scheduled to close within a month, was a major talking point of Wednesday night's meeting of the Ellisville City Council, which again deferred voting on a TIF for Walmart developers.
Although the council did not cast any final votes on the deal, the evening did preview council members' stances on the issue, which newly sworn-in Mayor Adam Paul said he was in no hurry to pursue.
Paul was sworn in Wednesday evening after being April 3 elections, which proved successful for Paul through a campaign centered around opposing Walmart in Ellisville.
The Sansone Group, who is facilitating the project with Walmart, would collect half of all new sales tax generated at the site under the proposed deal, with stipulations that the money being spent on surrounding infrastructure. The project was estimated to produce $500,000 annually for the city's roughly $9 milion budget, but was opposed by a majority of Ellisville’s TIF Commission earlier this spring.
The project also has been criticized by residents of Clarkchester Apartments, a residential complex next to the development site whose owners sold their property to the Sansone Group. Under a relocation policy the board is expected to vote on, residents at Clarkchester likely would qualify for relocation compensation of up to $1,000 per household.
Support for a Walmart TIF
Members of Ellisville’s business community, meanwhile, have largely been supportive of the move to draw Walmart to town.
George Sackett, who works closely with the Ellisville Community Farmer’s Market, asked the council to vote on the TIF proposal immediately, in part because of a desire to avoid losing amenities provided in the deal.
“I think that if a developer came here without the benefit of the TIF, we would lose many of the benefits that are being negotiated now, including things like additional trails and open space areas,” Sackett said at Wednesday's meeting at Ellisville Elementary School.
Sackett also said Ellisville’s business reputation would be damaged if the TIF negotiations fall through, which could hurt the city’s efforts to attract other new businesses.
“With the announcement of the closing of the Best Buy, we’re only enhancing the need for us to proceed with the development in this area.”
The Balancing Budget Act
Paul and Council Member Matt Pirrello spoke earlier this month about possible cost savings measures that could help compensate for the absence of a new retailer in light of what Pirrello has described as growing operational costs for Ellisville. Among the measures discussed were charging fess for services such as leaf and brush pickup. The two council members also discussed contracting the city’s law enforcement duties with St. Louis County Police, which Paul said he opposed.
In a rare break from decorum Wednesday night, council members Dawn Anglin and Linda Reel separately questioned the mayor’s plans to maintain the city budget. Anglin directly asked Paul to elaborate on his remarks that expanding the city’s population should be prioritized ahead of attracting businesses.
"And I’m asking how would we do this if our commercial (business base) is failing, they continue to fail (and) our services are cut, how are we going to attract people to come and live here?” said Anglin, who was one of two incumbent board members who lost their mayoral bid to Paul this month.
“I’m not denying the fundamental important of redevelopment in our area,” said Paul, who cited concerns about the locale of the proposed Walmart at Manchester and Kiefer Creek roads in relation to other businesses.
“You have a Best Buy on Manchester (Road) and 141 that’s essentially comparable with a TIF and a Walmart, and then you’ve got our standalone Best Buy,” Paul said. “It’s essentially the same location in the same place as the 141 location.”
Blue Lights Ahead?
Preliminary votes for the proposal to grant Walmart’s developers a TIF district and to establish a relocation policy for displaced residents narrowly met a required supermajority with five of the seven votes needed to advance. Paul and Council Member Michelle Murray, another board member who ran for mayor this spring, both opposed the measures.
Despite pleas from the public and fellow board members for a final vote soon, Paul said the council may opt to wait months or even a year before casting final votes on the proposals, in part to consult with city staff amid his first weeks in office, Paul said.
“So in my opinion, if there’s a time to hurry up and wait, that time is now,” Paul said.
Pirrello and others reiterated Wednesday that the development for a Walmart has been a project roughly 6 years in the making.
The council is scheduled to next meet Wednesday, May 2.