So I wasn’t surprised two weeks ago when I learned that the Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse store on Oddie Boulevard would be closing when the new store was completed at Legends at Sparks Marina early next year. What did surprise me was when I called up Mayor Geno Martini and City Councilman Ron Smith to ask them what they thought about it and learned that they didn’t know about the closure.
When I was brainstorming my article last week about the new Lowe’s, the question at the top of my list was whether this meant the store on Oddie would be closing. No other query was even close to being first. My line of reasoning was this: If the store closes, what happens to the employees and what happens to the smaller stores that will be left behind when Lowe’s goes?
Were those questions not on the minds of our elected city officials? I understand that they have many tasks, but so do I and all it took for me to find out was to pick up the phone and talk to the Lowe’s manager. Maybe one of the other members of the City Council knew about it, or at least maybethe city staff knew. I didn’t get a chance to call around and ask.
Fortunately, the Lowe’s manager told me, all the employees of the current store would be moving to the new store at Legends. What the manager could not tell me is how the store’s departure from the shopping center will affect the other tenants. I already know that City Councilwoman Julia Ratti is quite aware of the economic struggles of that part of her ward. Losing a major store will be a painful loss to the area, compounded by the portion of the store’s sales tax revenue redirected to repay the Legends bonds.
That is the other element of this whole game of musical merchants. Lowe’s is hoping the change of location will boost its sales by getting in on the Legends “action,” if it can be called that. At the very least it is a more visible spot and it is the hub of the current attention by being the new kid on the block. But in doing so, three-quarters of the store’s sales tax will go to pay off the debt incurred to build Legends.
Two years ago, Target made the same leap of faith by opening a new store at the northeast edge of Legends. According to city spokesman Adam Mayberry, Target was ready to leave town because its store on Prater Way wasn’t performing well but the retailer decided to give Legends a try. I do not know if Lowe’s also was planning to get the heck out of Dodge, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. If so, moving to Legends spared at least a portion of the Lowe’s sales tax revenue for the region. If not, the company essentially thumbed its nose at the taxpayers in favor of more corporate profits – or at least the possibility of more profits.
Speaking of the taxpayers, they are getting the shaft by the whole Legends project. Not necessarily in terms of money. If Legends wasn’t here, there likely would be no trace of the commerce it has brought to town. Even if 75 percent of the mall’s sales tax revenue is sucked up to pay off the Sales Tax Anticipated Revenue (STAR) bonds that financed much of its development, the other 25 percent at least is still there for public use. It is possible that the Legends developers walked away with way more money from the project than the people of northern Nevada will ever see from it, but I’m willing to accept that as an unfortunate side effect of capitalism.
What gets me is that the STAR bond system is so full of holes that it is hard to believe any politician approved it in the first place. The main problem I see in it is underscored by the example of its use in Sparks. Use of the bonds was approved under the auspices of the legal requirement that the development attract and earn more than half its money from out-of-state tourists. The giant Scheels sporting goods store, a hotel/casino and so-called “outlet” stores were slated to make people from other states want to come spend their money there.
Scheels is open and the stores are there (call them “outlet” if you want, but I’m not paying those prices), but the hotel/casino is still nothing more than a vision and who knows when it might get built. Now add in the fact that Legends has Target, Best Buy, a number of other stores that you can see in any mall in America and soon a home improvement store. I can see the tourists lining up along Interstate 80 from California to come get their genuine Nevada two-by-fours and cell phones. Even if these stores are simply there to add appeal to local shoppers, the perception of Legends will change from a place where an out-of-towner will want to go to just another mall.
This all leads me to believe one of two things. Either no one can stop the Legends folks from doing exactly what they want or no one cares. To see Target and Lowe’s at Legends makes the whole STAR bonds thing look like a ruse to give developers advance funding to bring in their projects. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. Unless someone can find a way to enforce the tourist requirement, we might as well recognize STAR bonds for what they are.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to drive to California to buy a new hammer.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.