Wentzville, MO. Billionaire Developer Asks City For Welfare
One of the world's richest men has his hand out for public welfare to help him build a Sam's Club store. E. Stanley Kroenke married into a fortune in Wal-Mart stock when he married the daughter of Sam Walton's deceased brother Bud. Now his telling residents in Wentzville, Missouri that if they don't give him more than $7 million in tax subsidies, he will pick up his toys and move to another town.
Kroenek's wife, Ann Walton Kroenke is one of the richest women in America, with an inheritance valued at $2.6 billion. Kroenke owns the Denver Nuggets basketball team, hockey's Colorado Avalanche, is part owner of the St. Louis Rams and the English soccer team Arsenal. He was the 117th richest American, with an estimated worth of $2.7 billion in 2009.
Kroenke has a habit of asking local cities and towns for public subsidies to build his Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs -- and local officials actually believe Kroenke needs welfare. In July of 2010, Bridgeton, Missouri gave Kroenke $7 million to build a Wal-Mart. He's at it once more -- this time in Wentzville, Missouri.
Local residents wrote Sprawl-Busters with the following account: "Sam's Club is tearing out our green space to build 300 feet from the entrance of our subdivision, Bear Creek, in Wentzville, Missouri. Our development houses 550 families. As an extra slap in the face, Sam's is petitioning a 27 year, sales tax increase so we can pay for it. They even marked up and flagged our subdivision monument in the staking.
In a sly move, this item was titled, "THF Bear Creek Development," instead of: "Plans for a New Sam's Club in front of Bear Creek Subdivision." The Sam's Club comes with a gas station at this location. The 300 feet must be excluding parking lot and road because the property is literally across a two lane road at our four way stop sign. They will not pay to expand this road, but will generously donate 20 feet back to the city for future road expansion. So again, our tax dollars will have to pay for that too.
There is also a cemetery on the property, and THF plans to honor it by putting up an iron fence around it. The city is voting to rezone the 11 additional acres from agriculture (with homes on it) to commercial to get this done. Not only were 50 or more Bear Creek residents opposing the project present (most had three hours notice while majority of the neighbohood was still in the dark), we also have signatures from more than 30% of the neighborhood. A fact that has gone ignored. At the meeting only one tax payer was there in favor.
Three Alderman have come up in favor of the re-zoning, and three against. But the Mayor is voting for it and is the tie-breaker. At last week's meeting, when I asked the Mayor to explain how we can access information or the process to oppose the re-zoning, he said the meeting was the process and the council's decision was final. Additionally, when the Mayor was asked why wasn't this proposal made public earlier, he said, "it's not their job to share every whisper with the community." He was then asked to give residents more time to understand the impact on our community before voting, since planning has gone on behind close doors for nearly a year -- if not longer -- and we have had only a few weeks notice. The Mayor said "No."
In summary, majority of the little green space we have will be removed. Our roads are inadequate and the additional traffic poses a safety threat to our children who walk on the side walk of this property and adjacent property."
According to St. Louis Today, the developer, THF Realty wants to build a 136,000-square-foot store on the northeast corner of May Road and Bear Creek Drive. In addition to the gas station, the project would include a small restaurant in front of the Sam's store. The site is only partially zoned for commercial use, so neighbors will have a chance to appeal to the courts is the city council votes to approve the rezoning.
The Board of Aldermen will take a final vote on the rezoning on April 27th. The vote on the gas station component of the plan split the board 3-3. Wentzville Mayor Paul Lambi broke the tie by voting to approve the site plan. Aldermen Nick Guccione, Cheryl Kross and Peggy Meyer voted against Kroenke's plan.
One resident of the Bear Creek subdivision told the Alderman "I think our property values are going to go right in the toilet. They are dying as it is, because of the economy. I'd rather see a strip mall in that lot. Anything but a big box store."
What you can do: THF Realty responded to residents' concerns about traffic by presenting the results of a traffic study that the developer financed. Not surprisingly, the developer's study indicated wait times at intersections would actually decrease after the project was finished. THF Realty said it would make additional improvements to the intersections near the proposed store -- but such improvements are largely to benefit Sam's Club.
But most appalling was the public subsidy that THF told Aldermen it must have to make the project viable. THF wants Wentzville taxpayers to underwrite the developer by creating a community improvement district (CID) surrounding the Sam's Club lot and existing retail lots to the south. In the CID the city would earmark one-half cent sales tax to the developer for up to 27 years. THF says the Sam's Club will generate $75 million in sales tax annually, and during the first 15 years of the deal, the developer would get a $7.25 million kickback in sales tax, that otherwise would have gone to the city. Even worse, Mayor Lambi told residents that if Kroenke's company did not get the public subsidy, Sam's Club would take their project and move it to another city.
A citizen's group called "Wentzville First" has quickly formed to oppose this project, and is asking the Board of Aldermen not to support this rezoning or the tax welfare.
Readers are urged to go to http://www.wentzvillemo.org/Email-ald2w2.aspx and send an email to Alderman Vann Sample, Rick Stokes, and Leon Tow with the following message:
"Dear Alderman Sample, Stokes and Tow, There is no way that the Wentzville Aldermen should allow a CID payment to Stanley Kroenke. The taxpayers of your city do not need to be subsidizing billionaires. Why does Wentzville have to help finance one of the wealthiest people in America? THF Realty often asks small towns to give them public welfare -- but if Mr. Kroenke does not want to use his vast wealth to make this project happen, let him find another community willing to subsidize the rich.
This project is not properly zoned, and no developer has a right to rezoning. You must consider the needs of the homeowners who live near this project. You can brag about 'Boomtown' all you want -- but if you are not careful, Wentzville will become known as 'Sprawl-Town' instead."