Our future’s for sale
What seems like great news may not always be. While its fine to welcome new dollar stores to town, it’s clear city officials repeatedly failed to do their due diligence in presenting the issue to the public.
The first hint that a deal was in the works came from an agenda and packet emailed late Friday to a handful of citizens who requested it. The packet didn’t disclose that dollar stores were involved and never made its way onto the main upcoming-meeting link on the city’s website, where a previous meeting’s agenda and packet still languish.
Only in a private, council-only version of the packet were dollar stores mentioned. Not until one council member brought it up Monday was it emphasized that the deal would be contingent on restricting the right of an existing dollar store to relocate. And nowhere — not even in the council meeting — was it mentioned that the land in question was set aside, not to be sold, for purposes of creating a buffer for nearby residences and drainage for the industrial park.
Six years ago, when Dollar General came to town, city officials publicly said they promised not to sell any land in the industrial park to potential competitors. That promise may not have made its way into legal documents other than a lease signed by the dollar store and a developer who purchased the land from the city, but it was a public promise, publicly reported. Going against that promise now could send a message to other potential businesses, concerned whether the city will keep its word.
Regardless of whether there’s a way to continue to provide a buffer for nearby residences and to tend to drainage matters the land initially was set aside for, it’s clear from both the new dollar store’s insistence on not wanting its competitor to relocate and the original dollar store’s attempt to restrict future competitors in the area that the economic impact won’t be what proponents might think.
With the first dollar store, business might have been brought to the city, creating jobs and sales tax revenue. A second store is unlikely to add to that business but rather to merely divide it among competing stores, one of which probably won’t survive.
The particular chain that wants to locate here has been accused by critics of locating in what often are economically disadvantaged areas, setting up stiff price competition with locally owned food stores, then raising prices and reducing the range of groceries sold after local grocers go broke.
The chain has been a key player in creation of so-called food deserts in Kansas and nationwide. Yet Marion is rushing around, almost secretly pushing a deal that apparently goes back on oral promises and definitely rejects original platting for its industrial park.
This isn’t economic development as much as it is wanting to be a wheeler-dealer in the commercial real estate market.
— ERIC MEYER