Wal-Mart v. Downtown

An interesting piece appeared in Better! Cities & Towns today, designed to get everyone thinking about how highly dense, mixed use developments common to downtowns help support the tax base:

An analysis by Joseph Minicozzi of Urban3 in Asheville, North Carolina, shows that on a per-acre basis, dense, mixed-use development far outstrips the value of lower density, single-use development — even profitable big box stores.

The article explains:

In the dozen communities (surveyed), a Wal-Mart on a large outlying site generated $7 per acre in property taxes, while a shopping mall or strip center produced slightly more: $7.80 per acre. By contrast, denser, more urban kinds of development provided much greater financial returns for their communities. Two-story, mixed-use development generated $53.70 in property taxes per acre. Three-story mixed-use generated $105.80 in taxes per acre. Six-story mixed-use was best of all: $415 per acre.

Minicozzi chose property taxes to compare because they are collected in both counties and cities and are more consistent across cities than school taxes. However, a vast majority of cities are also funded through sales taxes, making big box stores (and retailers in general) easy bets for cities looking to increase revenues. Unfortunately, these retailers are not the best for providing full time jobs with good salaries and benefits. It’s a constant struggle for cities. How do you increase city revenues while still attracting good jobs?