Wal-Mart plan apparently dead after SD 161 vote
By Mike Nolan email@example.com October 9, 2013 10:28PM
Tinley Park Trustee Dave Seaman answers questions at Wednesday's Summit Hill School District 161 board meeting. The board rejected a request from the village to approve tax breaks for a proposed Wal-Mart and Sam's Club. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media.
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:17PM
Summit Hill School District 161 Board members on Wednesday night rejected tax incentives for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter and Sam’s Club stores in Tinley Park, a move that appears to have scuttled the project.
Board members said they didn’t agree that the 300,000-square-foot retail center at the southwest corner of Harlem Avenue and 191st Street would hold many benefits for the district and noted that residents were strongly opposed to the project.
Tinley Park officials have proposed a package of tax breaks worth $5.4 million for the project — with District 161, Lincoln-Way High School District 210 and the Frankfort Square Park District being asked to give up all the property tax revenue they would get from the stores during the first 21/2 years they would be open.
Tinley Park Trustee Dave Seaman, who spoke to District 161 board members before the vote, told them that “if this district doesn’t do this deal” and approve the incentive, the existing soybean field would remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future — a prediction greeted by applause from about 90 residents at the meeting.
After the meeting, Seaman said it appeared unlikely that the project could move forward, noting that Wal-Mart would not proceed without the tax breaks. While the District 210 board has not yet considered the incentive, Seaman said “I think it’s a moot point.”
District 210 owns the land and plans called for the district to sell it for $7.5 million to Tinley Park, which in turn would sell it to Wal-Mart.
While Tinley Park officials had pitched the project as, once the breaks expired, bringing much-needed tax revenue to District 161, Rich Marron, board vice president, believed the development would hurt housing values and depress sales at stores in the Brookside Marketplace mall north of 191st Street.
Board president Sean Doyle said emails from district residents concerning the incentive were “overwhelmingly against” it. He also questioned whether the world’s largest retailer, once the tax breaks ran out, would ask for more or would appeal its tax assessments, potentially hurting the school district.
“The argument seems to be ‘everybody does it,’ ” Doyle said of tax incentives. “I can’t wrap my head around supporting that.”
Many homeowners near the site have been vocal in opposing the project and have questioned why such a huge corporation as Wal-Mart needs tax breaks.
Nicholas Tarala, a Frankfort resident who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, derided Wal-Mart as a “corporate monster,” contending that the stores would have a negative impact on District 161 in the long run.
Although it’s a 72-acre site, much of the land is in a floodplain and only about 40 acres can be built on, according to the village. Difficulties associated with the property, including soil conditions and stormwater detention requirements, will make construction more expensive, prompting the tax breaks, a village report says. It says that if not for the financial help, construction of the stores “would not be economically viable.”
Originally, District 210 envisioned the property for a new high school but ended up building Lincoln-Way North several blocks south along Harlem Avenue.
Five years ago, in the face of strong local opposition and amid the Great Recession, a Chicago developer shelved plans for a large retail center, anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter, on the property.