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EXPLAINING TIF

In response to Val Dansereau ("Letters," Oct. 9), I must say he is ignorant of the "value" of the St. Thomas land and the economic benefits that a credible national retailer can bring. Wal-Mart, even with the tax increment financing (TIF), generates new money for the School Board and the city.

Let's define TIF, rather than pointing out its intimidating nature. A TIF allows financially strapped governments to make improvements and to attract or expand businesses. A tax increment is the difference between the amount of tax revenue generated within a designated district before the TIF designation and the amount of tax revenue generated after the designation. This difference is used as a revenue stream to generate bond money to develop the designated district. In the case of St. Thomas, the boundaries are confined to the 63-acre development site. But for a TIF, financially strapped cities would not be able to remove blight and encourage economic growth.

HANO owns a portion of the land Wal-Mart will occupy. I doubt very seriously that HANO would allow this land to be utilized for any other purpose, especially when the housing market is so depressed. New Orleans would remain stagnant for another 80 years, and the city would not receive a dime from this site.

Jeanne Marino Betbeze

CPA, HRI

OVERSIMPLIFYING THE ISSUE

Your opinion in "Rethinking Wal-Mart" (Oct. 2) addresses the complexity of the proposed Wal-Mart, although your emphasis obscures one of the key issues, namely the use of public funds to subsidize a formidable out-of-state retailer's project.

Your lumping together of concerned parties as "preservationists" oversimplifies the issue and creates an elitist image. Small business owners, residents and shoppers apparently not contacted by Gambit Weekly or economist Tim Ryan do have genuine concerns that are not primarily motivated by "preservation" -- replacement of public housing units, increasing reliance on automobile travel, sweat-shop labor.

Even more important is how this project will affect our city financially in the years to come. I hope that decisions like the use of public funds will be made with public debate and the consent of informed individuals. I hope your editorials will present the deeper implications of this issue in the future.

Edward Melendez

Advocacy Director, Urban Conservancy

HISTORY REPEATED

I was very disappointed in your commentary on the proposed Wal-Mart. You completely glossed over the financing of the project. You failed to mention that the city stands to lose up to $100 million from the sales tax diversion.

Why, if there is such strong evidence that Wal-Mart devastates businesses and neighborhoods, would you think it would be different for New Orleans? Will this project be that different from our expectations of the World's Fair or Chris Hemmeter's over-the-top promises for the casino?

New Orleans must have Alzheimer's.

Della Graham

'A HORRIBLE PRECEDENT

A number of misapprehensions remain over the reconstruction of the St. Thomas housing project. The first is the indivisibility of the rebuilding of the mixed-use St. Thomas area and the adjacent Kabacoff condominiums. Public money is being used to demolish the project and rebuild housing, offered to the general public at market rates. This project was started years before Kabacoff took it over.

Kabacoff realized he could parlay appreciation of the demolition into an adjacent housing development on private land. This was, and is, applauded by the preservationist community. But Kabacoff decided to attempt to secure public financing for this private development by using sales tax increment financing, along with property tax financing. This means that the city has been asked to donate all sales taxes and all property taxes collected on the property to Kabacoff for the next 20 years.

A Super Wal-Mart is expected to generate $75 million a year in sales. If it does, it will generate $2.625 million a year that will go to Kabacoff. The city will see nothing. Most of these sales will come from other businesses in New Orleans, and the city will lose $1.312 million each year. This subsidy to Kabacoff is bad tax policy and a horrible precedent. This siphoning of tax dollars without an appropriation by a public agency is an abuse.

William D. Reeves

WHAT NEW URBANISN MEANS

Your endorsement of the Wal-Mart development gave as its most important benefit the New Urbanist nature of the plan. It is unfortunate that Gambit neither investigated nor understands New Urbanist principles.

New Urbanism is the careful blending of all aspects of city life. "Principles for Inner City Neighborhood Design," issued by the U.S. Department and Housing and Urban Development and the Congress for the New Urbanism, makes clear the importance of compatibility between homes, streets, neighborhoods, neighborhood businesses, the city and ultimately the region. One cannot be designed independently of the other.

Commercial uses out of scale with the residential portion of a development make for bad design. We are faced with a 213,000-square-foot building that ignores three entire blocks with blank walls. The potential for human street activity is lost with this suburban approach to design.

We all want good housing. We want new jobs, while retaining the ones we have. We want good places to shop. We just want development that will create sustainable communities. It can be done.

John Wettemark

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