Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I guess Target is no longer "the good discount general merchandise store": Big box stores bullying small localities as a way to lower their tax assessments

Bloomberg Businessweek reports ("How Big-Box Retailers Weaponize Old Stores") on a systematic program by big box retailers in particular Target, which pioneered the practice, Walmart and Lowes of bludgeoning local governments on their property tax assessments.

Somehow companies have successfully convinced judges that rather than value their properties on the basis of actual viability, they should be valued as if they were shuttered and abandoned properties, in wholly different and uncomparable markets, where because of the store's closure, the property value is significantly less.

There is only one word to describe this practice:


Frequently, the localities fold because they don't have the money to fund the suit. From the article:
Tucked away on the northern edge of Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, Sault Ste. Marie is bracing for the battle of its life. The tourist town is heading to court in early 2017 to fight Walmart Stores, which seeks to cut $286,000 off its annual property tax bill on a local store. Using what critics call the “dark store loophole,” Walmart is following in the footsteps of big-box merchants including Lowe’s and Target by arguing that its bustling store should be assigned about the same value for tax purposes as one that’s been vacant for years, hundreds of miles away.

The financially strapped town of 14,000 faces legal bills of about $100,000 to take on the retailing giant. The cost of the battle that started in 2014 already has forced local authorities to slash budgets for everything from senior meals and the local animal shelter to police and fire pensions. Now its leaders have decided they’ve been pushed around long enough. “It is like David and Goliath,” says Jim German, the county administrator in Chippewa County, which includes Sault Ste. Marie. “We are going to give it our best shot, because it isn’t fair.” ...

Michael Shapiro, a Detroit real estate tax attorney who pioneered the dark store argument, says he’s not insensitive to the financial needs of communities, but “whether it is unfair or not doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m just looking at what the law is.” For more than 40 years, Shapiro has made a career out of helping businesses challenge property tax bills. A lawyer with the Detroit firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, he made a name for himself representing car companies, successfully arguing their plants’ taxes should be based on the values of closed factories. Years later, he saw a similar opportunity in big-box stores. He made his first such successful case in 2010.
.... like how a billionaire secretly funded a legal suit against a news website he didn't like, I wish someone like Bill Gates would provide scads of money to local governments like Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, facing six- and seven- figure lawsuits from the likes of Walmart.

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At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMHO brick and mortar retail is in a death spiral--it's much easier to order online and have it delivered, mostly free. Not to mention, shopping is a total drag compared to Viewing shiny, bright fantasy-land images on the Net, clicking a button and waiting for delivery.

Good for UPS and the USPS--for the time being--but at some point, the manufacturers are going to want to pass delivery costs on to customers. Don't know what is next--delivery drones maybe?


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