POPLAR BLUFF, MO
It has been a roller-coaster 24 hours for the 8 Points project. In a stunning turn, the Poplar Bluff School Board voted 6-0 (with typically-opinionated Steve Sells abstaining) against giving further public tax monies to the 8 Points development. THF, the national real estate developer owned principally by Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the St. Louis Rams and a member of the immediate Sam Walton family via marriage, is spearheading the development adjacent to the new Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center site.
After discussion led by Dr. Matt Riffle, the board voted not to support the Transportation Development District. To date the school has bore the brunt of funding the development with the over $20 million in tax dollars originally meant for the school going to the development. Riffle also discussed issues he sees with the way in which the state disperses tax credits. Senator Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau a longstanding opponent of tax credit programs commented, “While I cannot speak to the specifics of the local taxing district, I can say that I have worked for 6 years on this issue and it is good to see local school boards awakening to what is happening to their budgets”.
The issuance of tax credits and TDDs are an issue being reviewed by legislators on the state level as well. State Representative Todd Richardson echoed some of Riffle’s concerns, “While I support the 8 Points project and the TDD’s passage, I am concerned by the fact that the citizens who will be paying these taxes have had no voice in the process, until we dealt with this issue locally I didn’t not realize these taxing districts were formed without a vote of the people. Since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2002, we have consistently held that any increase in taxes be approved by the people. Further, I believe that had the developers taken their case to the people that the citizens of Poplar Bluff have been willing to pass tax increases when they made sense to the community as they did with the Highway 67 effort”.
One school administrator revealed to SEMO TIMES that the real issue is not tax abatement or that school kids are bearing the brunt of funding the private hospital and retail development. The school administrator who spoke only on the condition of anonymity said that the hard feelings began with THF’s backing out of a commitment to purchase dirt from the school left over from another project they had committed to purchase for use at the 8 Points site. The source stated that many on the School Board and inside the administration felt THF had lied to them.
That same source informed the SEMO TIMES that THF has previously promised to make a very large donation to the Three Rivers College Endowment Trust for the construction of an entrance way off of Shelby Road. The donation would be used in conjunction with a property donation by Dr. Richard Camp to complete the entrance way.
Later, THF informed the Endowment Trust that they would not be donating the funds to the Endowment, but would simply have the project folded into the TDD (which is paid for by tax dollars). This means that the taxpayers, not THF, would be paying for the entrance. However, the eccentric Dr. Camp placed a time restriction on the donation of the property, making it impossible for TRC to wait for the money to come from the TDD, because the city has went so far into their reserve to expand Oak Grove road, to build infrastructure for 8 Points, that the City will receive the TDD tax dollars before the College While there were many issues he could not speak directly to Allen Brooks chairman of the Three Rivers College Endowment Trust offered the following, “It was my understanding that early on 8 Points or a group representing them were interested in contributing a large donation towards the entrance way project, that has not materialized. It is true that there is a time constraint on the land donation, but let me say that Dr. Camp has been very good to work with on making the entrance way happen”.
The School Board is the first governmental body to refuse further taxpayer funding of the development. A few hours after the School Board announced it would not support the TDD, whether the result of fate, blind luck, or simple coincidence, the developer and the City of Poplar Bluff announced that Menard’s would be the first retailer in 8 Points development.
At approximately 9:30 a.m. the SEMO TIMES posted to its Facebook readers the School Board vote, and within 10 minutes a city official informed the SEMO TIMES that the Board’s concerns that there had been no retailer committed to the project were unfounded, because they had just signed Menards to come in, and that Home Depot, Pack’s, and Meek’s would ultimately support the TDD even though they would be financing their competition because it would benefit the community overall.
After confirming the Menards announcement at approximately 10:00 a.m. the SEMO TIMES posted on its Facebook page and website the City’s announcement that Menard’s was locating in Poplar Bluff. That afternoon, the Daily American Republic ran a story with quotes from the City of Poplar Bluff, THF, and K2 (a partner) saying that Menards was coming to Poplar Bluff. Whether by a simple oversight, or a continued lack of journalistic integrity on this issue following the juvenile superimposing of hard hats on the heads of local leaders, and vitriolic calls for the lynching of those who speak against the project the DAR did not bother calling Menards for comment.
In doing basic research on this story, the SEMO TIMES spoke with Jeff Abbott, Spokesman for Retail Expansion with Menards. He initially stated that the only new locations Menards planned in Missouri in 2013 were to be in St. Peters and Manchester. He also made clear that no one else was authorized to make a public statement that Menards was locating in Poplar Bluff.
City Manager Doug Bagby told SEMO TIMES per normal protocol that he had spoken with THF representative, Jeff Otto, who had confirmed the expansion. When the SEMO TIMES contacted Otto, he stated that THF had a in fact signed contract with Menards, and that they were excited to quickly move forward and would be breaking ground in late spring. Otto also stated that the passage of the TDD would have no bearing on Menard’s decision, and is not a contractual restriction on locating in Poplar Bluff. Ryan Kiser with K2 did not return repeated calls and texts for comment.
Otto was a representative at a meeting in recent weeks at Poplar Bluff city hall where the city agreed to purchase the Sheehy Trailer Park and would do a very unique “land swap” with THF by which the city would give the commercial land where the trailer park sits to THF in return for the streets THF would be building. However, several council members raised concerns as typically developers build streets and turn over the land to the city in return for maintaining the streets. In some of the first votes against the project the city council voted with the developers by a 5-2 margin.
Later in the day, Abbott contacted the SEMO TIMES to amend his previous statement, explaining that “while there was no authorization to announce that Menards would be expanding to Poplar Bluff, they were in the process of over the coming months completing the approval processes, both internally and with the local governments, to build a store in Poplar Bluff someday, although no timeline has been determined.”
The real fate of 8 Points may lie with a group of approximately a dozen community business leaders that were previously meeting to contemplate opposing the TDD. One of the business leaders told the SEMO TIMES that significant changes were made to the TDD proposal after this group met with city officials and were assured that the local property taxpayers would not be on the hook if the project fell through. They were also informed of the disastrous impact the failure of the TDD would have on the city’s finances.
Two of the members of this group were contacted and while both were very interested in the school board’s vote, and the Menards announcement were unsure if recent events would lead to further meetings.