July 16, 2010

'Big box' retailers don't generate as much property tax revenue as you might think

A 'big box' store like Wal-Mart coming to town may look like a local tax revenue windfall. But according to an analysis of property tax revenue per acre in Sarasota county, Fla., such pedestrian-hostile developments "produce barely more than a single family house; maybe $150 to $200 more a year," Citiwire.net reports. "(Think of all those acres of parking lots.)"

Meanwhile, a high-rise mixed-use project downtown contributed $800,000 in local property tax per acre, compared with $22,000 per acre for high-end retail shopping mecca Southgate Mall (Macy's, Saks Fifth Ave., etc.)

"Indeed, that three-quarters of an acre of in-town urban-style development is worth more property tax revenue than a combination of the 21-acre WalMart supercenter and the 32-acre Southgate Mall."

That's from a presentation by Peter Katz, director of Smart Growth/Urban Planning for Sarasota county. (See charts/stats from the property tax per acre analysis).

There may be less parking acreage in eastern Massachusetts than Florida, but nevertheless, this is one interesting and useful way to view the value of various developments. Yes, there are plenty of other factors to consider (like generating employment, cost of public services, etc.) But it can be too tempting to look at the total value of property tax per development, without considering what benefits other uses might generate on the same amount of property.