Do You Have Cooties?

Regardless of where you stand on the BURG vs. First & Main debate going on in Blacksburg, I thought a post on a local blog, "Think, Christiansburg!", did a good job of looking at a broader picture – what are we doing to our region when we consider "development". 

Do I agree with every point in the article?  No, but  the point made in the third paragraph hits the nail on the head – empty storefronts add no quality or value to an area.  Regardless, our elected leaders seem to be negligent at helping to find creative ways to combat this blight.  What will it take?  Maybe the name of the blog should be "Think, New River Valley!"

Here’s the text in its entirety:

published in local newspapers in May 2007 about the proposed
development on
South Main should be reframed beyond SCATs or Cooties because it
affects a larger area than just one community in Montgomery County.

This is more than
shifting the local portion of state sales tax within this or that town,
or business taxes collected in one town instead of another.  If
something is diminished within the NRV, there’s no cause for celebration.

This is more than
businesses changing addresses from existing buildings and moving into new buildings.
Having empty buildings in our community doesn’t add quality or value.

Do you believe any major
chain will maintain two stores a few miles apart, whether Wal-Mart or
Books-A-Million?  Look where our area’s original “mart” was located,
Goody’s was located before its last move.  A grocer on South Main
impacted adjacent tenants due to an anticipated expansion.  Those plans
were on hold for months, so once could expect yet another address
change was considered. 

How many partially
occupied shopping centers do we need within Montgomery County?  How
acres of barren, paved parking lots do we want?   How many miles of
sidewalks or bike trails do these unused acres of pavement represent? 

How badly do we want any
traffic congestion to be a routine part of getting somewhere, or creating new
bottlenecks within our community?   Do we really want town
governments and county supervisors fighting over the few dollars available for
upgrades to local roads and major traffic arteries?  Or would we rather
they work together to get many long-talked about yet unfunded improvements

Is this about Smart
Growth, or repackaging sprawl while laying the ground-work for future blight?

No matter how many
“anchor” (translation:  big box retailers) stores arrive in Blacksburg or depart from Christiansburg, employees
working at these businesses will earn service-sector wages.  It may even
cost some employees more to get to work, since the locality with public
transportation has the highest housing costs.  This may translate into
more cars and congestion in Blacksburg, but where’s the value in that?

The South Main concept
was introduced as being “pedestrian friendly” yet that element is now absent,
so living where you can walk to work or shop is no longer a factor in the
discussion.  No higher paying or new jobs, just a shift on where you may
earn or spend wages.

No matter which “anchor”
stores arrive, individuals won’t automatically have more money to spend.
The presence of nationally recognized chain stores doesn’t equate to a rise in
personal income, a decrease in real estate taxes or enhanced government services
-- they change  shopping destinations or whether a shopping trip is 5 or
15 minutes away (when people can’t or don’t use public
transportation).    Folks, we are not talking about South Dakota
here with a 50-mile one-way commute for a loaf of bread.

Why not discuss how
proposed developments affect county and both towns’ revenues? Where is economic
development in this dialog on creating
new businesses, or expanding and
sustaining existing ones?  Why recruit fickle chain-stores that leave
communities littered with vacant buildings?  These points should be
worthy of action and passion, too.

Where is the dialog about
identifying how sales, meals or other use-taxes allowed by Dillon rule could be
increased, rather than shifted from one locality to another?   Why
should a public entity’s business operations receive an advantage over private
business owners?  As one example, why must private restaurateurs collect
taxes from customers when a public institution is selling “more than 5 million
meals each year”?  What would the meals tax revenues be for Blacksburg if ALL diners were taxed?

A redevelopment of one
town’s southern gateway creating new sales or tax collection points should
stimulate residents to reflect on impacts “anchors” and
“chains” represent.  The rising tide theory (if you build it here,
they will come from there) isn’t an assurance of real, sustainable community
growth (but it’s a pretty sure bet developers passing through and remote
big-box corporations will profit).  Let’s bring these points into the
dialog instead of creating disharmony about shared values and common wants.

If another acronym is
needed as part of this dialog, how about “Corporate Opportunists Overwhelming
Towns, Instead of Economic Sustainment”?   Community members should
be looking at development from a panoramic perspective, not through a straw.

Could this specific
project bring much needed revenue to Blacksburg?  Yes.  Would
existing businesses vacate a current location for a new one?
Possibly.  Are living wage jobs being added to the local economy?

Remember:  convenience
isn’t priceless, many people try to get a tentacle attached to your taxes or wallet, and
neighbors watch out for each other.

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