Op-Ed: H-E-B’s Combo Loco
Published: November 6, 2013
Other entities have also opposed the closure, including the Conservation Society. In addition, several city departments, including the Parks and Recreation Department, opposed the closure during the internal canvassing process. However, after separate open records requests seeking the results of the canvassing were filed two weeks ago by Main Access and KWA, the CCDO reached out to all non-consenting departments, thanked them for submitting their first drafts, and asked them to re-respond to the canvassing request.
I asked Sanders why the City would be so determined to allow H-E-B to close Main Avenue. “It started out as developers saying people don’t want to live downtown because there is no convenient grocery store,” Sanders explained. “The Mayor staked out the notion that a grocery store would be a magic silver bullet [see pp. 13] to transform downtown’s prospects for residential development. He’ll do what it takes to make this deal happen.”
Economic Consequences of Closing a Street
However, not everybody is convinced that a grocery store will solve downtown’s development woes. H-E-B has recently announced a $100 million dollar development plan to sweeten the deal. (Note: The Express-News reported H-E-B is no longer asking for the $1 million incentive. According to Piland, this is not accurate. H-E-B is interested instead in reinvesting the $1 million into a public works project.) H-E-B is also talking about bringing jobs to the area.
Piland explained that 1,600 workers currently in other office buildings north of downtown would be consolidated into the downtown campus. Then, of course, jobs would be created by the store and gas station they intend to build in the area. In addition, as H-E-B grows as a company they will presumably be adding jobs. Bernal admitted in the Coffee with the Councilman session that he is not totally clear on just how many jobs H-E-B was talking about.
County Commissioner Kevin Wolff doesn’t think any incentive, including the street, should be given to H-E-B without the City Council being given hard numbers around jobs. “We get asked for incentives all the time,” he says. “We have a lot of really good criteria in regards to those incentives: How many new jobs? How much do the jobs pay? All of these types of things. If somebody came to me and asked me for $1 million for an incentive and told me that they were going to employ a maximum of 15-20 people at minimum wage, I’d say ‘Hell no.’ Of course, the real incentive H-E-B is going after is not that $1 million; it is the street.”
One thing I don’t think City Council or H-E-B has considered yet is the impact streets have on jobs. H-E-B is talking about adding 1,600 more people to their downtown campus. If South Main is closed, how will this affect traffic on Flores and César E. Chávez? If a store is also at that intersection, won’t this create even a worse traffic problem? Traffic can substantially affect a company’s growth. For example, a study by the Airport Corridor Transportation Association reports that 30 percent of Pittsburgh employers claim commuting issues were the number one barrier to hiring and retaining qualified workers.