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Kadner: Tinley mayor still wants a Wal-Mart

Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said Monday village will announce plans next two three weeks for big-box retail development this

Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said Monday the village will announce plans in the next two to three weeks for a big-box retail development on this property southwest of the intersection of Harlem Avenue and 191st Street. | Mike Nolan~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 12, 2013 6:25AM



Mayor Ed Zabrocki isn’t giving up on bringing a Wal-Mart to Tinley Park, despite a local school board’s refusal to approve a tax break for the superstore.

“There are a couple of different land owners we’re talking to today,” Zabrocki said about his plans to keep the Wal-Mart deal alive.

“This is simply because of the economics of what a Wal-Mart will bring to Tinley Park.”

As for the plan to build a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club on 191st Street near Harlem Avenue, Zabrocki said it “isn’t dead, but it’s on life support.”

Summit Hill School District 161 board members on Wednesday night rejected tax incentives for the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores.

Under an agreement Tinley Park had worked out with Wal-Mart, the retail giant would have gotten $5.4 million worth of tax breaks, including a 21/2-year tax abatement from District 161 and Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, which owns the property.

“I think people misunderstood the tax abatement,” Zabrocki said when I asked him about widespread community opposition to the proposal.

“I’ve heard people say they think they would be losing tax money. That’s not the case. They’re getting almost nothing (in property taxes) for the land right now and if the Wal-Mart had been built they would have gotten millions of dollars over the life of the 10-year deal and more long after that.”

Right now, the land generates $170 a year in property tax revenue for District 210. The district would receive $2.4 million over 10 years if the land is developed by Wal-Mart, according to Tinley Park.

Summit Hill School District 161 would have received an additional $4.5 million in property tax money over 10 years if the Wal-Mart were built, compared with the $3,268 the land will generate over the next decade if it is not developed, Tinley Park village officials have estimated.

“And the high school district is out of $7.5 million,” Zabrocki said, because the village was going to buy the land from District 210, which originally bought it to build a new high school. Lincoln-Way North eventually was built at 199th Street and Harlem Avenue, a mile south of the soybean field.

“I don’t know if that property is going to be worth $7 million to anyone else, frankly,” Zabrocki said, “because there are problems with it and costs involved for development.”

Only about 40 acres of the 72-acre site can be developed because it’s in a flood plain, and any construction likely would result in additional stormwater detention and construction costs, village officials have said.

Many Tinley Park residents have openly objected to offering tax breaks to Wal-Mart, whose owners have become some of the wealthiest people in the world.

“I understand why people feel that way, but you have to understand the economic realities,” Zabrocki said.

“Wal-Mart is a multibillion-dollar corporation and you may not like giving them tax breaks, but it is one of the major drivers of economics and you have to deal with it.

“It generates a lot of money because a lot of people shop there. And you can’t ignore the facts.

“They are the keys to an economic engine and you have to go with it, whether you like it or not.

“It could really help the economy of our suburb and that’s why I’m not giving up on the idea. I believe we can find another location here for what Wal-Mart wants to build.”

Zabrocki said the 191st Street location was the first choice because it was not only available, but in Will County, where commercial properties “pay about 40 percent of the property taxes that they would in Cook County. That’s a real incentive for Wal-Mart to locate there.

“And since it would have helped the school districts, at no cost to them, there would have been no additional children going to the schools, I thought it was a pretty good deal for everyone.

“But I respect the school board’s decision. I’m glad people got involved and interested in their community. Now we will move on. But we’re not giving up on Wal-Mart, I can tell you that.”

There’s already a Sam’s Club in Tinley Park, at 161st Street and Harlem Avenue. Sam’s Clubs are retail warehouse clubs owned and operated by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. that charge a membership fee to consumers.

Wal-Mart officials have indicated the current Sam’s Club in Tinley Park is too small for future growth and they want to build a larger store, hinting at a possible move to another south suburb.

A complicating factor in the fight over the 191st Street location is that a large retail shopping strip that includes a Target Store was built just a few years ago on 191st Street, directly across from the proposed Wal-Mart location.

Traffic congestion has increased in the area nearby as more stores have opened in Brookside Marketplace, which also includes a Best Buy, PetSmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, T.J. Maxx, Kohl’s and HomeGoods.

Despite community opposition to the Wal-Mart, Zabrocki said he never faltered in his support for the project.

“I’ve never made any major decisions for this village as mayor based on popularity,” Zabrocki said. “If you do that, you’re not doing your job and it’s time to leave office.”

I find it interesting that people, including many of the folks I know in Tinley Park, complain about high property taxes but then oppose the very projects that could keep them from getting even higher.

The Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club development might not have lowered property taxes, but the tax revenue produced would have in all likelihood kept taxes lower than they will be in the future by generating millions of dollars in new revenue.

SouthtownStar staff writer Mike Nolan reported that people at the Summit Hill school board meeting cheered when someone said the property would likely remain a soybean field for years to come.

I doubt they will be as happy when their property tax bills arrive in the future.

But the people have spoken. That’s what democracy is all about. So it’s ironic how most folks are dissatisfied with the result.



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