The city council approved a bundle of tax incentives for the developers of the North Platte Mall Tuesday, after listening to nearly two hours of public comments that were supportive of the project.
No one spoke against the renovation. Those in favor said they wanted more places to shop, plus more business activity in North Platte.
“I am sick of buying from Amazon,” Jennifer Crow of Hershey said.
Allee Stout said when her daughter got married, she had to order most everything online.
“I would have gladly paid the tax to go into a store and look at the items,” Stout said. “I can’t tell you the number of returns I’ve sent (through Amazon) because it was the wrong size or wasn’t what it said it was.”
“Please give us options to shop.” Stout said.
Marcia Baumann, who recruits staff for the hospital, said she’s been disgruntled with retail offerings in town and what’s happening with restaurants. To buy graduation gifts, women’s or children’s clothing, people have to drive out of town. She said communities have to be very aggressive to expand their retail shops.
Other speakers pointed to the money that will be spent in North Platte if the mall is successful, as well as new employees who will come to town, and the amount of sales and property taxes that will flow into the city treasury.
It would mean millions for the city, Developer Mike Works said.
Chamber and DevCo director Gary Person said the mall development would be a turning point to rejuvenate North Platte, along with a proposed beef packing plant and manufacturing plants in an industrial rail park.
Person indulged in a bit of cheerleading.
“Let’s go make a lotta things happen for this community,” he said at the end of his presentation, to applause.
Members of the audience lined the hallway and filled the small conference room in another part of the building. One by one, they spoke passionately to frequent applause, urging the council to approve the most controversial incentive — an extra 1.95-cent sales tax on items sold by mall businesses.
Works said the money would be spent to completely replace the parking lot and utilities and make the mall look better than malls of similar-size cities, which would enable him to recruit major retail stores, including Dunham’s Sports and Hy-Vee grocers.
Some speakers said they represented many other people, including the board of the Chamber of Commerce, the 43 members of the North Platte Hostesses and Sutherland residents. One speaker referred to “support from across the county.”
Downtown Association President Sarah Talbott said the association supports the project.
Designated areas of Scottsbluff, Sidney, Grand Island, Gretna, Lincoln and Omaha also have an EEA tax, and some speakers pointed to the folly of driving to other towns to shop and paying the tax anyway, plus gas and travel expenses.
No one expressed any reservations until Councilwoman Donna Tryon spoke after the public hearing was over.
The proposal, authored by Gothenburg attorney Mike Bacon, authorized not only the EEA tax but also Tax Increment Financing. Tryon noted that the document was 60 pages (of legal language) and has only been available since Friday. She moved to table the decision until a council work session could be set to better explain the deal.
Bacon had apparently tied the two incentives together. He told the council that a “no” vote would be the end of not only the tax but also TIF financing. On the other hand, a yes vote would mean there will be two more readings, providing ample opportunity to amend the redevelopment plan that authorizes TIF if necessary.
Some of the audience groaned when Tryon moved to delay the decision, but Rieker seconded. The vote was 4-3, with Councilman Mark Woods joining Tryon and Rieker in voting no.
The council was one member short at the time. Ty Lucas, who works at the bank that is doing much of the financing, Nebraskaland National Bank, not only abstained from voting but left the room before the hearing began to avoid any conflict of interest on his part.
The final vote was 5-2 in favor. Rieker and Tyron voted no for conservative reasons, arguing that the project relied too much on government. Tryon said she did not campaign on a platform of more taxes, but rather the opposite. Rieker said he’d heard from elderly people on fixed incomes who don’t like the special tax and couldn’t attend the hearing.
Woods and Jim Carman expressed similar concerns but voted for the project. Carman said he’d heard from an overwhelming number of supporters and only one person contacted him who was against it.
Carman said shoppers in North Platte don’t want to travel somewhere else and have to pay the special tax there, reiterating a point that was made earlier.
Carman said he’s lived in North Platte has had no population growth for the 40 years he’s lived here. These days, he is excited about the recent downtown renovation, the possibility of a beef packing plant and is “wholeheartedly in favor” of tax incentives for the mall. The room erupted in applause at that. Most of those in attendance realized Carman could well be the swing vote.
The ordinance change will have two more readings before the council. The EEA tax is expected to generate around $7.5 million over 20 years. The city will handle the funds and also be responsible for collections if stores fail to pay on time.
The tax increment financing segment of the package will add up to about $8 million.
Earlier in the meeting, the council also unanimously approved a $1 million forgivable loan from the city’s quality growth fund, without discussion. The loan will be totally forgiven when the owners spend $30 million on the project, and they have three years to do so.
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