Never mind that there's already a Sam's Club rising from the ground on 34th Street N in St. Petersburg. The City Council — hiding behind the guise of job creation — was all too happy to help one of the world's biggest corporations put one over on the Florida taxpayer.
On Thursday, the council fulfilled its legal obligation by approving the Sam's Club application to have its site declared a "brownfield" — a contaminated piece of land. But members went on to recommend, on a 6-2 vote, endorsing the company's application to Enterprise Florida to collect a $2,000 per job state tax refund. The so-called Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus Incentive would provide Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sam's Club's parent company, $240,000 for a project that it has already started.
Council members Karl Nurse and Steve Kornell cast the only no votes, suggesting that at least they know what an incentive is. The state brownfield program is supposed to attract businesses to areas that otherwise might not be developed due to the cost of cleanup.
The other six council members, who voted to endorse the tax break, were unwilling to put any of the city's own money behind their decision, further indicating they acted irresponsibly. They had the option of contributing $60,000 of city funds to support the project, but waived that, citing "budgetary constraints." The state, too, is under budgetary constraints.
Mayor Bill Foster and members of the council argued Thursday that creating the 120 promised jobs trumped all else. But the new Sam's Club promises to pay just $20,000 annually on average. That's roughly 50 percent of the average wage in Pinellas County — the exact kind of jobs that Florida need not pay to attract.
To call this deal an economic incentive decision is an embarrassment. It was a case of corporate opportunism and the council enabled it.