Ellisville, MO. Wal-Mart Goes Down, Loses Huge Welfare Subsidy
It is the sweetest six words that any anti-Wal-Mart group can hear: "We have decided not to proceed with our involvement."
A Wal-Mart spokesman told CBS/KMOX on September 5th that the world's largest retailer was pulling its superstore plans out of Ellisville, Missouri. "We did all that was required of us to formally advance our project."
Now the project has advanced to the waste basket, and neighbors couldn't be more pleased Some of them even have been spared losing their home. The Clarkchester apartment complex that sits on the site would have been demolished, along with local businesses, including a car dealership that had closed.
Just a couple of weeks ago Wal-Mart had shown no inclination to fold. The project was sustained by a conditional use permit that required the developer to begin construction by last week. But some of the apartment building owners had refused to sell, and the deal unraveled. But the politics in Ellisville also turned against Wal-Mart as well.
As Sprawl-Busters reported on March 2, 2013, the most controversial part of the plan was the huge tax subsidy that came with it. One of the most vocal critics of the welfare plan was the city's Mayor. In early May of 2012, Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul chastized his fellow City Council members when they voted to give a Wal-Mart developer a multi-million tax break.
Mayor Paul had been elected in April of 2012 on an anti-Wal-Mart platform. So when the Ellisville Council voted 5-2 to give an $11 million tax subsidy for a Wal-Mart, Paul surprised no one when he spoke against the vote. "For you all not to listen to the people who put you in office is wrong," Paul said. "Shame on you."
The City Council vote meant that a rich developer and the billionaire Walton family was going to receive a handout from city taxpayers. Under the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deal, the Wal-Mart project would have seen 50% of the new sales taxes put into a fund controlled by the developer for infrastructure improvements on the developer's site.
Even worse, the City Council voted to give residents of the Clarkchester Apartments, which sits on the Wal-Mart site, $1,000 per household for relocation expenses. Residents living in the units strongly opposed Wal-Mart, and formed a group called the Ellisville Article 9 Alliance.
According to the Ballwin-Ellisville Patch, one member of the Article 9 Alliance told Council members, "the majority of you have voted to approve this project -- (to) put 250 people out of their housing that's perfectly fine, decent and well cared for with $1,000 in their pockets for them to hit the street, and you call that a relocation plan? I'm sorry. I don't believe you've been elected to do what you're doing."
Within weeks after the Ellisville City Council's vote to approve the Wal-Mart Superstore, a recall effort aimed at removing the council members was started. The Article 9 Alliance pushed to remove the five city council members who supported the project from office. In accordance with the city's charter, the group targeted two council members whose seats were the next to come up for election. In addition, a lawsuit was filed by a city resident to block the project.
The Wal-Mart vote, and the displacement of more than a couple of hundred residents from their apartments, rubbed many city residents the wrong way. It has remained a hot button issue in the city for the past year and a half. In January of 2013, a lawyer for Wal-Mart opponents argued that the city had made several legal mistakes in its decision, including not conducting adequate traffic studies, and allowing the developer to pay for the town's legal counsel.
Opponents said the project would tower five stories above neighboring homes. "Some people are six feet from the property line and because of the elevation of the site, one of the tallest grades in Missouri, they'll come out of their houses and look up 56 feet to the top of Wal-Mart," the opponents lawyer stated.
But more than a year ago, the Wal-Mart war in Ellisville turned ugly and very personal. In late February, 2012, the city council voted unanimously to suspend Mayor Paul for 45 days, to conduct hearings regarding allegations that the Mayor violated the city charter and should be removed from office. At the city council hearing, more than a dozen residents spoke -- all of them in support of Mayor Paul.
The complaint filed against the Mayor charged that he violated sunshine laws by disclosing confidential details and that he drank on the job.
According to the Patch, Mayor Paul "strenuously denied the accusation that he had drank vodka on several occasions while at City Hall." The Mayor said he had been targeted "from day one" because of his outspoken opposition to the Wal-Mart project. "Ultimately, I will have my fair shot in the circuit courts," Paul said, "but not with the kangaroo court that the council got me," he said.
"You better have some damn evidence if you are going to call me a belligerent alcoholic," the Mayor told the city's lawyer, who drew up the resolution. "You make me look like a monster, sir." The Mayor's lawyer said the effort is politically driven and based on the Mayor's opposition to public financing for the construction of a Wal-Mart.
Opponents of Mayor Paul worked hard to impeach him, but the courts reversed that effort. The Mayor's supporters said the impeachment effort was a way of punishing the Mayor for opposing Wal-Mart. In April of 2012, an election put more anti-Wal-Mart members on the City Council. The new council cleaned house, and got rid of the pro Wal-Mart city attorney, city prosecutor, and city manager.
In a final blow to Wal-Mart, the council voted not to extend the developer's conditional use permit. Mayor Paul told KMOX News recently that the City Council was poised to vote to cancel the city's $11 million in tax giveaway.
Wal-Mart, seeing the writing on the Wal, decided to cut their losses and avoid a prolonged defeat.
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Mayor Adam Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Paul,
Thank you for standing up to the Wal-Mart goons who wanted to destroy your political career for having the nerve to oppose the billionaire's corporation.
You suffered through months of attacks and uncivil behavior from other councilors, but you prevailed in court, and now your community has prevailed against the giant corporation.
The TIF subsidy should never have seen the light of day. Not only was this welfare scheme a waste of millions in sales tax revenues that would have benefitted every resident of Ellisville, but the displacement of more than 250 residents for a Wal-Mart superstore is just beyond belief. If ever there was a case of putting profits before people---Ellisville was it.
Your city already has 5 Wal-Mart stores within a 10 mile drive, including 4 Wal-Mart superstores. So you don't need to throw money at Wal-Mart. If this project was unable to stand on its own financially--with the Walton family behind it -- then let it fall from its own weight.
What your opponents have done in betraying their constituents, and offering people $1,000 to relocate out of Wal-Mart's way, is shameless. What they did to you is just malicious. Keep on the High Road -- you will never run into Wal-Mart on that road."