The big box battle is on

Printer-friendly versionSend to friendForget Congress battling over the health care bill. Afghanistan? It is on our radar, but we’ll focus on it after Jan. 5. The big box battle is on in Eagle, and the local political machines are humming, nonstop. The question of whether or not Eagle should welcome a big box store “lifestyle center” (developer talk for “shopping mall”) will be put to local voters in the form of a referendum vote the first Tuesday in January. The proposed development is significant: 552,000 square feet of commercial space, a 150 room hotel, and 581 employee housing units, located on what is now a pasture on the east end of town. Go to a coffee shop, the grocery store, out to have a beer, or browse through one of the downtown retail establishments, and somebody will bring up the big box referendum. The newspapers are stuffed with letters to the editor arguing the pros and cons of the project. Supporters, including the majority of the Town Board, argue that the development and resulting sales tax revenues are critical for the town’s continued financial health. Currently, the lack of retail establishments means that people shop out of town, and those coveted sales tax revenues flow elsewhere. More sales tax revenues would help pay for routine business, such as street maintenance, and for the amenities that people enjoy, such as free concerts in the park or flower-filled pots on Eagle’s Main Street. The supporters call their campaign “YES for Eagle’s Future.” Detractors cite the impact on Eagle’s small town character, and are skeptical of the developer’s projections of new jobs and big sales tax revenues. They are also wary about financial agreements and tax rebates that are part of the deal. Their campaign group has a more unwieldy (but informative) name: “Smart Growth—Not Urban Sprawl — Vote No on Eagle River Station.” On any given night of the week, citizens can go to an “information” session hosted by one political group or another. Campaign signs are popping up in snow-covered yards and public rights-of-way. Both sides have conducted telephone polls. Each group is mailing out election fliers. The opposing camps are suspicious of each other's tactics. And, as is typical in small-town politics, passions are running high on this issue. How will the Jan. 5th vote go? Given Eagle’s boomtown status, only a foolish person would be betting money for one outcome or another. There are too many “new” factors that will affect the vote. Most notably, due to the town’s rapid growth in recent years, the majority of the people in town are “newcomers” — they’ve lived here five years or less. Who knows what they want? And what about the long-time locals? Where do they stand on big box stores? In the past, Eagle’s elections have always involved a trip to the Town Hall and the marking of a paper ballot. But Colorado has new election laws, and the Town Clerk is required to mail out at least 1,200 ballots. The people who did not sign up for mail ballots will have to make that Jan. 5 trip to the polls. The number of voters could easily double or triple any voter-turnout the town has previously experienced. About the only sure prediction that can be made at this point is that this election will usher in a whole new era for Eagle.

Comments

Great article. I'm interested

Great article. I'm interested in how this plays out in terms of neighbors and your town.

Hi Kathy, Los Alamos, NM,

Hi Kathy, Los Alamos, NM, (another Patchwork Nation community) recently grappled with this issue. After several years of empty promises about a giant "lifestyle center" with a major retail anchor store, entertainment venues, restaurants, paths, affordable housing and professional office space, the developer involved eventually shuffled up to our community leaders with a half-baked plan for a Fred Meyer anchor store that would provide a grocery monopoly and a sea of asphalt parking area. Dave is correct when he points out that the shopping mall is a dying retail anachronism that provides an unsustainable business model in an era when cyber-shopping is beginning to dominate the consumer landscape. These days many communities are bemoaning the loss of green space or open space to the hollow promises increased sales tax revenues by greedy developers looking to make a quick buck off municipal-subsidized development. Hopefully your community will not be fooled by slick-talking snake-oil salesmen peddling patent cures for an ailing economy at the expense of small-town character, the loss of locally owned small businesses who simply cannot compete with the buying power of the Mega-Box stores, and creation of a non-walkable, sprawl-based retail hub. God's mercy on Eagle if the referendum passes.... Good luck.

I am not from your area so I

I am not from your area so I have no horse in this race. Just a thought for your Town Council folks: Malls and "Big Box" retail in general are a rapidly dying industry...the war is over and the internet won. With the notable exceptions of home improvement (selling largely hard-to-ship products) and Wal-Mart (selling lots of groceries and low cost consumables) the game is over. Sales of apparel, footwear, electronics, books and many other product categories have largely moved to the web, and the trend is rapidly growing and will not stop. Developers are in denial because renting to the retail folks is their lifeblood. The economic collapse has changed retail forever…sure there are exceptions, like bottom feeder Wal Mart who has captured many new customers as they float down the economic scale, but the trend is clear that the Big Box operators are essentially doomed. The reason is simple: Retail is simply too expensive and inefficient as a method of product distribution…items are stored in an expensive building, sitting on expensive real estate, with expensive utilities and requiring massive amounts of labor to maintain and transact this whole scenario. Because of the power of the web, every potential retail customer knows the best price in the nation on any given item, and as mobile technology progresses, they can look up prices while they’re in the store. This means that high overhead retailers must try to compete on price with much more efficient operations…which of course they can’t do. The good news is that specialty and boutique resellers stand to gain, as people will be buying most things on the web they will also be looking for “social shopping” outlets and retail stores offering a unique experience. Town council..don't get too excited about those sales tax revenues..they might not come to pass.

I lived near Eagle when it

I lived near Eagle when it was a small town before the 1970's. None of the businesses at that time are still there - most were pushed out by the rising property values and the ability to drive to Glenwood for less expensive goods and more variety. History has shown that the retailers that are there will close within a few years if a big box store is brought in. Eagle, which has lost a lot of it's small home-town flavor will continue to lose it's small town charm. It's not too far to drive to other areas of the county to obtain the things these big box facilities sell.

Thanks for this Kathy. Just a

Thanks for this Kathy. Just a really nice look at a key issue there...