CHAPEL HILL- Would a big box store be a boost to the tax base or a drain on the local economy? In Chapel Hill and Carrboro the debate has flourished for years.
Now Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, says Chapel Hill may be ready to embrace at least one new name-brand store, and he’s got the numbers to prove it.
“There’s always been a lot of controversy over whether Chapel Hill would be open to a big box store, and what we found in this poll is that 56 percent of voters in town would like to have a Target in Southern Orange County,” says Jensen. “Only 15 percent are opposed to that idea.”
The proposed Obey Creek project across from Southern Village has been earmarked as a potential location for large-scale retail development, with Target as a possible anchor store.
Jensen also asked respondents how they’d feel about an Olive Garden in downtown Carrboro. While many in Orange and Chatham counties were receptive to the idea, Carrboro residents were not interested.
“Overall, voters in Orange and Chatham say they would support an Olive Garden in downtown Carrboro by a 44-35 margin,” says Jensen. What’s kind of funny when you break down the numbers is that voters in Carrboro itself are opposed to an Olive Garden- they don’t want it by a 55-33 margin.”
With many Orange County residents opening their property tax bills this time of year, Jensen says he thinks some taxpayers may be considering how to expand the commercial tax base.
The survey polled 484 registered voters living in Orange and Chatham counties. The margin of error is +/- 4.5 percent. You can find the full results here.http://chapelboro.com/news/business/ppp-poll-suggests-chapel-hill-may-welcome-big-box-retail/
The year-end results for Orange County show taxable retail sales rose seven percent between 2011 and 2012. County Manager Frank Clifton says trends are starting to return to where they were before the economic crisis.
“Where people were not spending or holding back on certain expenditures in 2011, they’ve started to move forward in 2012,” Clifton says.
Clifton also says opening smaller shops in the Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough areas have led to growth. He says some of those businesses have grown out of plans for the future.
“The Edge Project in Chapel Hill, and then the hotel project down in Carrboro, that I think are stimulating activity in those areas, and you know, you may have some small businesses that are doing better as a result of some of those activities,” Clifton says.
In addition to projects around town, Clifton says there’s an opportunity for economic expansion across the interstates that crisscross Orange County. He says with the addition of utilities in these areas, opportunities for retail and even small-scale manufacturing will become available.
Despite the economic growth, Orange County still finished behind Durham County last year. Durham experienced an 8.1 percent jump in retail sales between 2011 and 2012. Because Orange County prides itself on homegrown, local businesses, many of the big box stores tend to set-up just across the county-line…Like the Wal-Mart off of 15-501 in Durham. Clifton says the county may have to make some changes.
“The reality is, is that those types of businesses do contribute to the local economy, and if they’re in the adjacent counties, they subtract from the local economy in our county,” he says.
Chapel Hill Economic Development Officer Dwight Bassett agrees with Clifton.
Bassett says, “I hate to see us lose any additional opportunity because once those opportunities are lost, unless our residential market were to grow dramatically, we have limited future opportunity.”
Bassett says developing some large retailers alongside smaller stores will help to benefit local businesses by drawing in more customers. He says redevelopment is important as well.
“I think it’s important that we facilitate that conversation, that we figure out what role the town can play in making sure that we, excuse the pun, pave the road to make sure that they can move forward and we can capture market share in a timely way,” Bassett says.
This column was always supposed to be about how and where we spend our money. Many times I’ve expanded my definition to talk about how public money is spent and the choices made by people paid with public money. This edition of $avvy $pender, though, is back to the more personal kind of spending, in this case, my own.
This past weekend I was all set up to pack my son’s things to take to a summer program. I had the staging area set complete with suitcase, the packing list, the permanent marker and clothes and sunscreen and towels strewn about. The Leffler Command Center was up and running!
Smoothly efficient, I was, and not a little smug with my planning.
That ended as I got to the bottom of the list where I had glossed over things like towels and sheets knowing we had some to send. Glaring at me was the following: “a light blanket”.
I didn’t particularly want to take one from his bed to send, and anyway, those aren’t exactly light and thin for packing. Okay, I thought, it’s Saturday afternoon, we can run out and get a light cotton blanket.
No problem, right? Right, unless I want to shop in the town where I live. No problem unless I want my sales tax to go to the coffers of the town where I live.
Now I’m sure many of you will send me the name of an amazingly lovely store (or two) that sells gorgeous blankets. I’m sure it/they do/does but think about where this blanket is headed: to accompany a 10-year old boy to join several other 10-year old boys. That’s not the place to send an elegant coverlet.
Nor did I want logo’d fleece. Not because of the logo but because fleece is frequently polyester and polyester doesn’t breathe and it’s for a summer program in the South.
So, I don’t want to run to one of Chapel Hill’s chic boutiques and I don’t want to run to a UNC booster/souvenir store. I also don’t have time to make several stops just in case I find one. Where do I go? Sadly, fellow taxpayers, I went to Durham. And so did my money.
What is so wrong with having enough of a range of retail establishments in our town that we don’t have to (a.) use more gas while (b.) adding to the income of another city and county?
There’s clearly something wrong with it that I don’t understand. And while I don’t understand it, I probably will end up paying higher taxes. And while I don’t understand it, town services may decline. Someone, please explain to me why it seems sustainability applies only to Chapel Hill’s beautiful natural world and not also to keeping the town a vibrant and dynamic place.
Next summer, when I’ve forgotten something on that list (and I will, because I’m aging!), please let there be some leadership in this town that allows for a mixed environment that serves the interests and needs of all its residents.
I’m not the first to tell the story of running to Durham to spend money. The exciting food scene there is also a draw to many of my friends. Please leave a comment below or write to me at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com to tell me how you think town leaders should do the impossible: attempt to please everyone!http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/necessary-border-crossing/
P.S. A savvy owner recognized her business in a previous column about a surprise charge I was asked to pay. She reached out, apologized, and offered a refund. A tip of my cap to that owner. FYI, I declined the refund as that was not the point of my post. What I did want and now believe I received, was an understanding that the business should work with the customer.http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/town-square/
Filling in the Borders
A source at J.Crew concurred that the larger location is what decided where it will open. I learned also that Chapel Hill is one of about 4 places the company holds these sales and it’s the college town aspect of Chapel Hill that makes it a good place to
set pop up.