Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg approves $240,000 tax break for Sam's Club

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council rejected pleas from small business owners and voted Thursday to award the world's largest retailer a $240,000 tax reimbursement for cleaning up a site that could be polluted.

By a vote of 6-2, the council decided that Walmart, the corporate parent of the Sam's Club that is near completion at 34th Street and 17th Avenue N, should get the tax break.

"It's disingenuous on our part to negate the fact that (Walmart) is a successful company," said council member Bill Dudley. "They have a good business plan. Sam Walton had a great idea. To penalize them because they have gobs of money and they don't need it, that's baloney."

Dudley was joined by Jeff Danner, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton, and Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran in approving the tax break. It comes in the form of a state tax refund of up to $2,500 for each job created. Developers say the Sam's Club will create 120 jobs that pay an average of $20,000 and are full time, which, by the state's definition, would be at least 35 hours a week.

Council members Steve Kornell and Karl Nurse objected to the tax breaks, calling them harmful when state government is cutting back drastically.

"At a time when the state cuts $300 million from the higher education budget, this one is difficult," Kornell said.

Representatives for Walmart claimed that early last year they discovered pollution on the property that came from a nearby dry cleaner.

"We could have very easily dropped the project at that point, let it go, and let it remain a blight for the community," said Michael Goldstein, an attorney for the project. "We didn't run away, we walked toward the problem and rolled our sleeves up."

In Florida, the state can award tax breaks to companies that build in so-called brownfield areas, an official designation that means the land is so contaminated or perceived to be that tax incentives are needed to spur development.

It's up to local jurisdictions to designate the areas.

But it's not clear if the 14-acre site, which had previously hosted a Home Depot and an Office Depot, is polluted. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is reviewing a test done by site developers to determine if the pollution has reached dangerous levels.

Nurse said he thinks Walmart's claim of contamination is a ruse. He pointed out that Walmart's own representatives wrote the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in June 2011 stating that there was no soil contamination and only "very minor levels of dry cleaning solvent" on the property.

Goldstein said that letter was written before a second test showed higher levels of pollutants. State officials are reviewing the second test and have yet to determine if the pollution exceeds acceptable levels.

The City Council decided it didn't need to wait for those results.

"We are getting something out of this," said Danner. "We're getting some good development."

Walmart has repeatedly sought brownfield credits for its stores. According to an April report by Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan research institute in Tallahassee, Walmart has been awarded $18 million in state incentives since 2000, mostly for building on these less-than-ideal sites.

Four years ago, St. Petersburg's City Council expanded an existing brownfield area to include a Walmart Supercenter one-fifth of a mile away on 34th Street. State officials say Walmart is due for a $312,000 refund this year for that.

Several representatives for small businesses and community groups argued Thursday that the incentives sacrificed government funding for libraries, youth programs and elderly care for corporate profits.

"This $240,000 is a pittance to Walmart, they make that in a half-hour," said Lenny Flank of Occupy St. Pete. "To Florida, it means a lot."

"We'd rather see this money create jobs for small businesses," said Jim Grinaker, an attorney who is a member of Keep St. Pete Local. "When you support local businesses, the money stays in the community."

But Mayor Bill Foster, who supported the project, said it would send the wrong signal to other developers if the city didn't approve the tax break.

"We want the sign on our gateway sign to say, 'St. Pete, we're open for business,' " said Foster. "We want this to be an environment where it's easy to do business. We don't want to send the wrong message that you are entitled to a state benefit, but we will stand in your way, we will be the impediment."

St. Petersburg approves $240,000 tax break for Sam's Club 06/07/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 8, 2012 12:16am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  2. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and similar events, saying they are inappropriate could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]
  3. What major sporting event could Tampa Bay land next?

    Lightning Strikes

    We are on quite a roll as a community. First, we had a Super Bowl drop from the storm clouds into our lap. It just reaffirms the fact that Tampa Bay is great at lap. And Monday it became official: Next year's NHL All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. The best in the world will be here to shoot and score. And …

    MVP Wayne Gretzky is congratulated at the 1999 NHL All-Star game, the last time the event was in Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times file]
  4. How the 2018 NHL All-Star Game reflects Jeff Vinik's vision for Tampa

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There were several reasons the NHL announced Monday that Tampa will host the 2018 All-Star Game on Jan. 28.

    This was the  logo for the 1999 NHL All-Star game played Sunday, Jan 24, 1999 at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo)
  5. Photo gallery: Nation pays respects to America's war dead on Memorial Day

    Human Interest

    At Memorial Day ceremonies in Tampa Bay area and around the country, Americans paid tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country.

    Eight-year-old Piper St. Jean, of Tampa, uses a brush to clean the grave of her grandfather, Henry St. Jean, who served with the United States Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars. at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens on Monday moments after the conclusion of their 31st annual Memorial Day Service on Monday (5/23/17) in Palm Harbor. The event featured guest speakers, live choral performances by the Palm Harbor United Methodist Church choir and live music by Bones South, an area trombone ensemble with rhythm section. On Saturday local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops placed flags on veterans???‚??„? graves prior to the event. This is an annual tradition of Curlew Hills' Memorial Day services and helps the Scout troops achieve merit badges. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.