Vail Valley Voices: ERS won’t work for Eagle
May 12, 2012
Eagle River Station was first proposed in 2007 and voted down by the highest-ever turnout of voters in the town of Eagle in January 2010.
This new version of the proposed shopping center has 30 percent more space designated for retail than the first version, with even less originality. The original was to be 552,000 square feet of commercial space and 581housing units.
Glenwood Meadows, the shopping center that includes Target and Lowes, is 405,000 square feet. The newly proposed Eagle River Station would be about 80 percent larger than that at 732,000 square feet, plus 550 rental apartments. (Editor’s note: Glenwood Meadows has 152 acres available for that development at buildout, compared with 88 acres for Eagle River Station at buildout. Glenwood is about one-third built now.)
Costco has 772 parking spaces; Eagle River Station would have 3,660 parking spaces.
I’ve seen several mentions of people being excited to have a “Riverwalk-type shopping experience” in Eagle. Eagle River Station would be nothing of the kind. Jeff McMahon, of RED development, was quoted in the Eagle Valley Enterprise as stating that they’ve changed the overall design to include fewer smaller stores and more large-format stores. He said, “The market now supports less small-shop leasing and more value-type tenants.” “Value-type tenants” translates to big-box discount stores.
RED development states on its website that it “will provide over 1,000 construction jobs in the near term and over 1,500 long-term jobs as stores and restaurants open.” The idea of jobs is great. However, they have not made any commitment in writing to hire local contractors and they do not have a record of doing so on past projects.
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As for the 1,500 long-term jobs, at issue are the low wages associated with retail jobs. The Journal of Urban Design states, “If a local economy is heavily dependent on retail jobs, the overall quality of the economy will be low due to the low wages produced by retail jobs. If those retail wages are even lower than normal, which is the case with wages paid by big-box retailers as compared with other local wages, the overall negative effect on the economy may be greater than any positive effect on prices.”
Eagle River Station, on its website, touts public improvements it will make, and in fact, it will pay the up-front costs for these improvements. However, it will be paid back. RED development will be reimbursed through an additional fee called public improvement fee that will be charged to everyone who shops at ERS. The town will be receiving only 1.45 percent of the sales taxes from Eagle River Station (as opposed to the regular 4 percent) for 21 years. And after that, the town of Eagle would be responsible for the costs of the ongoing maintenance.
Also, only three government districts would receive property taxes from the project for 17 to 21 years: fire, ambulance and WECMRD. Schools, libraries, even the cemetery, would get nothing from this tax.
RED made a lot of promises in respect to the quality and uniqueness of stores in the shopping center. It pledged a unique shopping experience that would draw in customers from Rifle to Breckenridge, south to Aspen and north to Steamboat Springs. The first project’s anchor store was to be a Target, but with Target stores in Glenwood and Silverthorne, how would that draw shoppers from those areas?
The additional big-box shopping competition in Avon wasn’t even included in that study. And if the Village at Avon (slated to include more than 600,000 square feet of proposed commercial retail space and a few thousand residences has, 14 years later, evolved into little more than two large anchor stores), which is much closer to Beaver Creek and Vail, hasn’t attracted retailers, how do we suppose that Eagle River Station will?
RED pledged in an article in the Eagle Valley Enterprise that, this time around, it would announce potential tenants earlier in the process, but there have been no such announcements. The developer has never produced a letter of intent from any retailer, so there’s no knowing what we’d be getting.
Additional differences between big-box chain stores and independent local businesses are highlighted by their community involvement.
According to Social Policy Journal: “(Big-box stores) drain local economies … unlike local merchants – which bank locally, hire local professionals like accountants and other professionals, advertise in the local newspaper and so on – big-box retailers have little need for local goods and services.”
The website bigboxtoolkit.com states: “Local stores recycle a much larger share of their sales revenue back into the local economy, while chains siphon most of the dollars spent at their stores out of the community, funneling them back to corporate headquarters or to distant suppliers.”
A study by the consultant firm Civic Economics concluded that “every $100 spent at one of the independent businesses created $68 in additional economic activity in the city, while spending the same amount at a chain only generated $43 worth of local impact.”
Social Policy Journal sums it up: “This, in a nutshell, is the problem facing small business in America: Our public policy and economic structures do not value community and the myriad of benefits that accrue from rootedness and local ownership.”
While change can certainly be positive, it must be well-planned and executed, keeping all the best interests of the town in mind. Why not work to attract clean energy or technology companies that would pay good salaries? Why not a wind or solar farm? Or an events center or … contrary to many statements, there have been some great alternative ideas suggested. But RED is in the business of building shopping centers. RED development has every right to build on the property it owns east of Eagle, but the people of Eagle also have the right to demand a project that they can be proud to have as the gateway to the town.
According to Sprawl-Busters.com: “You can’t buy small-town quality of life on any shelf at Target – and once they take it from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. … These projects are called lifestyle centers because they enhance the lifestyle of the developer – but do very little for anyone else.”
Cici Franklin is an Eagle resident.