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Kadner: Wal-Mart sparks another controversy

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: October 19, 2013 7:16PM



Wal-Mart, that great symbol of merchandising and American entrepreneurship, sure can spark community controversies.

Tinley Park is pondering a plan for a massive Wal-Mart Supercenter and Sam’s Club warehouse store at 191st Street and Harlem Avenue. Some village residents don’t like the idea and have let me know about it.

That’s the way it almost always is when Wal-Mart announces that it’s planning a new store.

For one thing, Wal-Mart always demands tax breaks.

Residents usually want to know why their community should grant a tax break to one of the most successful businesses in the world, which has made the founding Walton family the richest in the world — with five members placing consistently in the Top 10 of the Forbes 400 since 2001.

Hey, folks, Sam Walton and his heirs didn’t get rich by being stupid. Wal-Mart knows that its stores bring a lot of value to a community. So it demands something in return and almost always gets it.

If Wal-Mart develops the farmland (owned by Lincoln-Way High School District 210) along 191st Street, property tax revenue from that land will skyrocket over the next 10 years, according to Tinley Park officials.

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

And it says Summit Hill School District 161 would get $4.5 million in property tax income over that 10-year period, compared with the $3,268 it would get if nothing changes.

In total, the land as it exists would generate $7,366 in property tax revenue over the next decade for all taxing bodies compared with $12.39 million if developed by Wal-Mart.

In addition, building a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club there would generate more than $10 million in sales tax revenue for Tinley Park, and District 210 would earn $7 million from the sale of the property.

There are folks who will say their village is turning too commercial. Old timers in Tinley Park have told me it’s losing that small-town, rural quality they cherished.

Well, the fact is that’s long gone.

Tinley Park is a modern suburb these days, having grown from about 12,000 people in 1970 to nearly 60,000 today, and that’s not all bad.

In 2010, the village was named the best place in America to raise kids by Business Week magazine.

Mayor Ed Zabrocki, who has said that designation is the proudest achievement of his mayoral career, told me this about Wal-Mart: “If you ask me and probably most of the (village) board members, we would tell you we’re not thrilled by a Wal-Mart going in there. But when you look at the numbers, the impact on the community in terms of jobs and revenue, you come to the realization that it’s a good deal.”

Wal-Mart would get 2 1/2 years of property tax rebates from districts 161 and 210, after which it would pay 100 percent of its property tax bill to them.

The company would also get a 50 percent tax abatement from the Frankfort Square Park District and share in sales tax revenue with Tinley Park.

All of these tax breaks would amount to a total of $5.4 million, if the package is approved, according to Tinley Park officials.

They claim that, despite the revenue-sharing agreement, the village would get an additional $1 million in sales tax revenue per year to add to its $42 million operating budget.

Tinley Park has placed information on its website containing all of these figures and a lot more information.

Yet Zabrocki told me that about 70 percent of the residents he has spoken with have voiced a negative view of the development.

“People want things to stay the same,” he said. “But they never can. We’re going to be developing 191st Street, and people had to understand that. All of Harlem Avenue is commercial.

“You have to be realistic and understand that you’re competing with the Frankforts and other villages that are all seeking commercial development.”

But the mayor also understands that residents near the proposed Wal-Mart development have a legitimate beef. They were told by the developer that a high school would eventually be built on the property.

District 210 apparently had plans to do that at one time but instead built Lincoln-Way North High School south at 199th Street and Harlem Avenue.

“Once that happened, however, people had to realize that land would eventually be sold and developed,” Zabrocki said. “That’s just the way it is.”

There is a Sam’s Club in Tinley Park at 161st Street and Harlem Avenue, but Wal-Mart, which owns Sam’s Club stores, says the store is too small and is threatening to close it.

Tinley park officials said they’re saving the 182 jobs at that store, plus creating 368 new jobs at the Wal-Mart Supercenter that would be built.

And then there’s this: The village contends that Wal-Mart will be building on 40 acres of the 72-acre property because the rest of the land can’t be built on due to flooding conditions.

That’s going to entail extra costs, and no other developer might be willing to take it on.

As someone who has covered the economic depression still gripping the south suburbs east of Interstate 57, it’s a little difficult for me to sympathize with homeowners who don’t want certain types of economic development.

Communities such as Dolton, Robbins and Ford Heights are nearly out of money to run their village governments.

When businesses move out in such towns, nothing replaces them.

No suburb can stand still for long. They either progress or regress.

Tinley Park has tried to maintain its small-town feel, but at the same time has consistently planned for the future. It’s a delicate balancing act, and, in my opinion, few have done it better.

There are worse things than making a deal with Wal-Mart, such as driving around in one of its parking lots.



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