Ellisville chooses Walmart over residents
After much debate and multiple Council meetings, the Ellisville City Council in a 5-2 vote approved a plan to give tax increment financing to build a Walmart that would displace about 250 current residents. Those residents currently reside in the Clarkchester Apartments complex that will be torn down to make way for the new 150,000-square-foot store.
Elizabeth Schmidt, the interim chair of the Ellisville Article 9 Alliance, a group of residents that plans to explore its options to reverse the TIF approval or recall councilmembers who support it, said many of these residents are elderly and have called Clarkchester home for years.
Mayor Adam Paul and Councilmember Michelle Murray (District 3) were the only two who voted against the project, which would cost $49 million to complete.
The developer, Sansone Group, for up to 23 years would finance the improvements by taking 50 percent of new sales tax revenue from the project, which includes a $15 million incentive package. The redevelopment area currently is occupied by Clarkchester Apartments, Westgate Animal Hospital, Valvoline LC Auto Service and the former Moore Kia Mitsubishi dealership.
The project also is projected to bring in about $600,000 a year in sales tax to the city.
Supporters of the project said it will bring economic recovery to the city, but people opposed to the project said Walmart has the money to build and does not need a TIF to go forward with its development plan.
“It’s like seeing Warren Buffett at an intersection with a tin cup,” resident Mary Ann Dust said.
Julia Dolan, a member of the recently formed Article 9 Alliance, said she is against the TIF and that Walmart is a “known bully throughout the nation and in Mexico.”
“They bully employees, vendors, small municipalities with pipe dreams, under the table cash deals, and promise to bring extra money to the city,” Dolan said. “Our city has lost sight of their responsibility. Instead of supporting the residents, our city is following the shiny object at the cost of throwing 250 people out of their homes.”
Ed O’Reilly, former mayor of Ellisville, said he thinks public money should be used for what it was intended – for the public.
“You’re not a business; you’re a community,” O’Reilly told the Council. “Everybody has a face, and you’re pulling out 250 of them. That’s sad. … The Show-Me Institute said it’s not going to work. Gateway Council said it’s not going to work. The County TIF said it’s not going to work. Everybody in town said it’s not going go work – except the ‘Walmart five (councilmembers in favor of the TIF).’”
However, Charles Pavlack, former councilmember and member of the Planning & Zoning Commission and the city’s TIF commission, said the project would be good for the community.
“This is not democracy,” he said. “It’s a representative republic. We elect you to guide our city, not to do our bidding.”
Pavlack also said he keeps hearing that the majority of people have spoken, “but they haven’t.”
“It’s a common political truism that more people talk against things than they do in favor, so the fact that there are more people here talking against than there are talking in favor does not mean the majority of Ellisville is against,” Pavlack said.
Pamela Massey, an owner of Clarkchester Apartments, told the Council not to change their minds.
“You all remind me of parents that have to make decisions for their kids,” Massey said. “Your kids rebel against you, but you know what’s right. So as parents, you have to decide what’s best for your children.”
But Paul said he thinks the Council is making a big mistake.
“We’re supposed to represent the people, and I’m here for a reason,” Paul said. “For you all not to listen to your constituents who voted you in office, who you are supposed to represent, it’s sad. I’m not going to be able to sleep at night. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing I kicked 250 people out of their homes in search of sales tax revenues. Shame on you.”