This post was written by one of our members, Richard Bose, and originally appeared on the great blog nextSTL. It is reprinted here with permission.
The Grim Reaper constantly lurks in our city, threatening to destroy the productive development patterns of the past with the scythe of 20th century ideas of progress. Before doing more of the same, let’s do the math!
A QuikTrip gas station is proposed for the intersection of Jefferson and Chouteau. It would occupy nearly two acres, over half the block formed by Ohio, Chouteau, Jefferson, and LaSalle. In total the parcels currently generate $12,326 in property taxes on 1.74 acres, or $7,107/acre.
I’ll use the QT on Gravois for a comparison. That station sits on 1.33 acres, generates $19,197 in property taxes, or $14,444/acre. So just in property taxes we’d double its productivity. And part of the alley would be vacated, so a little less maintenance for the city.
But 89% of the land is vacant. Regrettably some buildings along Chouteau were demolished just a few years ago. Let’s compare the productivity of the developed portion. They occupy 0.19 acres and produce $8,137 in property taxes, or $43,053/acre. These modest buildings are nearly three times as productive as the QT on Gravois.
What about sales and earnings taxes? That information isn’t publicly available like the property taxes information. In addition the earnings tax is under threat every five years as it’s existence is required to be put put to a vote. There are two functioning businesses in the buildings already generating some earnings tax. Regardless, the retail function of the QuikTrip could occur in a traditional building. Given that fuel consumption is flat at best, the fuel taxes generated will simply be cannibalized from elsewhere.
Also, a gas station is much less flexible to repurposing if it closes, while a traditional building can be adapted for many uses. Instead of one gas station and convenience store, a set of buildings can provide a variety of shops, offices, and housing, adding vibrancy to the neighborhood and value to surrounding properties.
Many of our neighborhoods are scarred with closed gas stations and the related environmental problem laying underground. Capital is afraid of opening that Pandora’s box. Often brownfield tax credits are needed, which lays the liability on the taxpayers of the state.
Even if the sales and earnings taxes are overwhelmingly higher, the biggest loser is the struggling St. Louis Public Schools. 57.6% of property taxes go to the SLPS. Whenever we trade property taxes for sales and earnings taxes the schools lose. Or the rest of us have to make up the difference (same goes for the Zoo-Museum District).
Worst of all, this intersection is a gas station on the identified locally preferred alternative for the proposed North/South MetroLink light rail line. The line will enhance the value of the buildings already there and encourage traditional development on the vacant land, bringing returns to the city. A light rail station will do nothing to enhance a QT. A gas station there will squander public money and hamstring transit oriented development efforts with a new rail line.
We can’t afford to build this way, especially in a city that can’t add land area. Instead of a QuikTrip, we should be trying to build more of what’s there. That’s the only way we can afford all the infrastructure and services we want.
A nextSTL contributor since 2011, Richard Bose is an Electrical Engineer by profession. He earned a BA in Physics and Economics and an MSEE from Washington University in St. Louis. Richard is a transplant from Central Illinois and has called St. Louis home since 1998. He can be found on Twitter @Stlunite and contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.