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2008-09-18
Jackson, CA. Home Depot Gives Up On Site Fight

Home Depot's proposal to build a 139,390 s.f. store in Jackson, California has fallen down a mine shaft -- and it doesn't look like anyone in the city wants to rescue it. For more than two and a half years, Home Depot has tried to nail down a site in Jackson, but local residents wouldn't sit still for it. According to the Amador Ledger newspaper, the Home Depot project became "one of the most controversial businesses" to come to the city. At the end of August, Home Depot suddenly ended it all. In an August 28th letter, a Home Depot consultant informed the city of Jackson that the retailer was withdrawing its application for a site near the Kennedy Mine, one mile outside of the city's struggling downtown. "We ask that the City and its consultant(s) immediately stop work on the Project," Home Depot's letter said. The company gave no reasons in its letter for backing out. But the celebrations began immediately upon the good news. "Even if you didn't mind Home Depot, that just wasn't a good place," a spokesman for the Foothill Conservancy told the newspaper. "It's like they went out there and found the worst possible location in the county." Jackson Mayor Rosalie Pryor-Escamilla tried as hard as she could to find the corporation another location. "We tried to see if we could come up with something else that could be better. We definitely looked around. Is there somewhere else they could go? There was nothing that really met their needs." Smaller merchants in the city no doubt found the Mayor's assistance to Home Depot disquieting. The pullout from Jackson adds to the company's misfortunes in places like Sonora and Sutter Creek, California, where citizen response was negative to store plans. Both Sonora and Sutter Creek stores were never built. In March of 2006, Home Depot turned to Jackson, staking out 15 acres of land off Highway 49 and 88. But within several months, large-scale opposition to the store had sponsored a downtown protest against the project. The opposition was led by a coalition of the Foothill Conservancy, Amador Citizens for Smart Growth and Citizens for Preservation of Historic Jackson. Residents complained that the store would dramatically change the character in the valley near the historic Kennedy Mine. But Home Depot supporters did not care about the viewshed -- they claimed that the giant retailer would help the city with its difficult revenue problems. City officials embraced Home Depot, and said the company was being "very responsive" to its needs. But the community itself never rallied in support. Home Depot even sponsored a "free lunch" event, to which its supporters were invited. But the company ended up cancelling the event after critics said the company was only inviting certain people to the public event. Mayor Escamilla called the controversy over the Home Depot proposal "Shakespearean - it was much ado about nothing." But now she is left with nothing. The Mayor has a budget with a $340,000 deficit, and saw Home Depot as her financial Mother Lode. The city manager told the Ledger, "(Home Depot) wasn't the end-all, be-all solution to our issues, but it definitely would have been a (help)." Many local residents think the Home Depot withdrawal was due to retrenchment at the chain store, because of the dismal housing market. Earlier this year, Home Depot shuttered more than 50 stores -- an unprecedented cutback. The Mayor assumes the pullout "was more directly related to the economic downturn. Certainly all the community resistance didn't help, but my feeling is they pulled away because of the economy."

What you can do: Home Depot came to this city, a former center of the gold mining industry, looking for the Mother Lode. But all the got was a load of criticism. Home Depot's collapse in Jackson was good news for Meek's Lumber & Hardware in nearby Martell, California, and other nearby home improvement stores. The Mayor's vision of financial relief from Home Depot was misplaced, since the company largely draws its sales from existing merchants. The fact is, this is a very small community. Jackson's population in 1990 was 3,545 people. By 2007, it had only increased to 4,350. Home Depot could never have survived on Jackson residents alone, but needed a larger, regional draw. But there are already 20 Home Depot stores within 50 miles of Jackson, so the main customer draw would have been a 10 or 15 mile radius around Jackson. The net revenue gains in a city where the population is not growing, largely comes from other merchants, as the pie is sliced thinner. Readers are urged to email Mayor Pryor-Escamilla at: cinfo@ci.jackson.ca.us with the following message: "Mayor Escamilla, Congratulations on the good news about Home Depot! There are hundreds of Home Depots to shop at, but only one Jackson. You have your work cut out for you to protect what you call 'the serenity and friendliness of small town charm while enjoying the wide open spaces.' Suburban sprawl will fill up those 'wide open spaces' if you don't regulate growth through your zoning code. Your city is making a pitch to tourists to visit your historic Main Street, and your historic hotel. You cannot promote yourself as the "Heart of the Mother Lode," and the heart of retail sprawl. They are not compatible. Now that Home Depot has abandoned its project, Jackson should seriously consider putting in place a limit on the size of retail stores, a cap of 50,000 s.f., to avoid this kind of prolonged controversy again. Your revenue needs cannot be met by adding more and more retail. These giant chains only sell things -- they make nothing. Their 'new' jobs are only old jobs in new aprons. Your choice now is to lead growth -- or follow it. It's not how big you grow in Jackson that matters -- it's how you grow big."










 
 
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