Editorial about Walgreens – August 28, 2005

Four years ago, when we first learned that Walgreens had plans to locate in our neighborhood, we did an awful lot of research on how it would affect our neighborhood. Lest we forget, and because we have more vulnerable corners on James Street, I’ll reprint here what I wrote back then:


Since the early 1980’s, our city forefathers in their flawed thinking have foregone long-term stable housing property tax revenue for larger, short-term tax revenue gains by approving franchise type drive-thru land uses (KFC, Burger King, Eckerds, Rite Aid, Jreck Subs, etc.) over the past ten to twenty years.  What has resulted in places like Butternut St. is a high crime corridor and declining real property values.  Was this trade-off worth it in the end?

Those of us who have lived here need no proof from the data.  We can remember the fight back in the early eighties against putting in the Burger King…after that, Rite Aid and Eckerd destroyed complete blocks of historic buildings.  (One Eastwood resident was on the front lines and it was all over the newspapers).  Then Eckerds (used to be Fays) and Rite Aid  became obsolete buildings within ten years, and those buildings were “re-purposed” into dollar stores.  Eckerd and Rite Aid then put up bigger boxes across the street, taking out more historically significant buildings…and the story goes on…incremental erosion of the street and neighborhood character.

In the early 1980’s, Butternut Street was a lively, active neighborhood corridor.  Those who don’t remember that didn’t care or weren’t noticing!  Now we are left with quite a problem on Butternut: buildings of historic significance are likely going to be demolished because of neglect; the Archimedes Russel building and the Otisco building are really sad situations.  No one is willing to invest in those properties because of the current crime climate as well as the rough neighborhood it has become (it didn’t used to be) and the poverty of the residents who live near those drive-thrus.

The data is readily accessible.  Butternut Street is a prime example of how a business corridor declines over a period of time as a result of these types of land use.  But what about Eastwood?  Did the Dunkin’ Donuts on Midler and James make your taxes go down since the late 1990’s like they promised when it was constructed?  No! In fact, big-box stores and fast-food restaurants cost taxpayers more than they produce.

Fiscal Impact Analysis of Residential and Nonresidential Land Use Prototypes [PDF]
by Tischler & Associates, July 2002.

Big box retail, shopping centers, and fast-food restaurants cost taxpayers in Barnstable, Massachusetts, more than they produce in revenue, according to this analysis.  The study compares the tax revenue generated by different kinds of residential and commercial development with the actual cost of providing public services for each land use. The study found that big box retail generates a net annual deficit of $468 per 1,000 square feet. Shopping centers likewise produce an annual drain of $314 per 1,000 square feet. By far the most costly are fast-food restaurants, which have a net annual cost of $5,168 per 1,000 square feet.  In contrast, the study found that specialty retail, a category that includes small-scale Main Street businesses, has a positive impact on pubic revenue (i.e., it generates more tax revenue than it costs to service). Specialty retail produces a net annual return of $326 per 1,000 square feet. Other commercial land uses that are revenue winners include business parks, offices, and hotels. The two main factors behind the higher costs for big box stores, shopping centers, and fast-food outlets, compared to specialty retail shops, are higher road maintenance costs (due to a much greater number of car trips per 1,000 square feet) and greater demand for public safety services.

With all that history, let’s turn to one of our master writers here in Syracuse, Sean Kirst. He just wrote a column about a history of bad development that combines lack of vision, developers and politicians working together while excluding law-abiding taxpayer residents, and projects that flopped “because the officials who put them together ignored national trends and precedents.”

Or they didn’t even know what the national trends were, despite the fact that we’ve brought national- level professionals here, at great cost, to study us and tell us what the trends are. This vision-less thinking is killing Syracuse. Kirst goes on to say:

Does that kind of thinking still rule our town today? I’ll answer with a question: Are you kidding? It goes on every time jittery and reactive officials go into a backroom to let another drug store or fast-food restaurant developer blow away the fabric of some well-loved corner in order to put up an ugly, littered box with a blacktop moat, a box that will undoubtedly shut down in five or six years. (Is there anything sillier – and sadder – than these corners where a mammoth new drug store sits kitty corner from a dusty earlier version of the same thing?)

Okay, I’ll quit quoting him. Read Sean Kirst’s article. Then fill out the 1-minute survey in the right sidebar and come to the April 6 Planning Commission meeting. I’ll be looking for you!


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