On the surface, neighbors and City Council members are arguing among themselves over whether the City should give yet another corporation a sweetheart deal. Yet, on a deeper level, the issue is also about class and geography: Affluent versus blue-collar, North against South, even Southeast contra Southwest. The reality for Southeast Siders is that they are neglected and that the North Side receives the bulk of the perks.
They have a point: When City Council gives away the farm to the PGA, Sheraton, and other large companies to attract tourists (who are never going to hop a trolley to Southeast Military Drive) it irks South Siders that officials balk at a freebie for their neighborhood.
Target, Monnich, and project lobbyist (and big Moorhouse contributor) Earl & Brown know about these neighborhood issues. There is clearly a demand for the retailer on that side of town, but Target, by threatening to kill the project unless the City caves in to its demands, isn't being "a good corporate citizen," but is holding the area and the City hostage.
Target is using the neglect of the Southeast Side as a carrot, and its threat to build elsewhere as the stick. More than $3 million in bond money earmarked for drainage improvements has been languishing - interest-free - since 1994, but no city official has pressed for the work to be completed. According to documents distributed at the meeting, Target would apportion $875,000 (without dipping into its $1.4 million) for fixing drainage along Goliad Road, although that would be insufficient to finish the improvements. Target's motive is self-serving: If Goliad turns into a lake - as it does during heavy rains - no one will be able to drive to the store. In addition, Target, which is planning to build a retention pond to take care of its drainage, could still exacerbate the runoff problem with acres of parking spaces.
So why does Target, which ranks 34th on the Fortune 500 list, need a rebate to do business on the Southeast Side? "To create positive growth we need to use tax incentives," proclaimed Monnich at the meeting. "Rezoning isn't working. Incentives are the way to go."
Yet when the city is facing a $23 million deficit - and part of its revenues are generated by sales taxes - as Economic Development Director Ramiro Cavazos pointed out, "in the end we could erode the sales tax. We could open a Pandora's box and every retailer could come to us for a rebate."
With the City's history of giving away other forms of tax abatements like Halloween candy, Pandora has long been out of the box; this worsens the geographical rivalry. "I want to spend my money on the South Side, not the North Side, yelled one woman from the back of the meeting room. "We are proud Southeast Siders and we need to think about us."
"I don't think it's the solution," said 50-year Southeast Side resident Irene Connor in a later interview. "The drainage work needs to happen whether Target comes or not."
With the former Brooks Air Force base as an anchor, the Southeast Side has long been a combination of military and working-class entrepreneurs. Fifty years ago, Goliad Road was a cow trail, Bill Miller sold fresh eggs from his house on Utopia Street, and developer Jim Burke, who owns the proposed Target tract, built dozens of homes for military families.
As San Antonio's growth pushed northward and Brooks transformed from a military base into a City Base, a lot of people forgot about the Southeast Side. "We are a very old community, mostly retired," said Christel Villarreal, who has lived in the area since 1959. "And in the past, City Council representatives haven't fought for the South Side."
Although Brooks is attracting more tenants and a Texas A&M branch is planned for the Palo Alto College campus, the area still feels overlooked. "There isn't animosity," said long-time resident Ann Smith, "but we're a little envious. Businesses that go in on the North Side are nice, but we get low-grade clothing and merchandise."
This is why residents so desperately want a Target: In light of Kmart closings, there is no major retailer in the area unless one drives to the decrepit McCreless Mall. They are hungry for jobs, although Target is again misleading the public; at the meeting, Monnich floated a $7.50-$15 hourly wage range, but he failed to mention that the bulk of the jobs are at the low end, and pay even less than what the City considers as a living wage - $8.50 an hour.
It is uncertain when Council will hear an alternative proposal from Target, although Councilwoman Moorhouse urged everyone to "be adults" about the plan. Target should also act like an adult, if that means behaving responsibly. It has a captive audience - all the corporation has to do is deliver - without taking advantage of an already disadvantaged community. •