Decatur and Limestone County must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of the second manifestation of the Sweetwater development, but the concept could provide a major boost for both.
Confidentiality agreements restrict available information, but a City Council meeting Monday began fleshing out the basics. The initial development along Alabama 20, in the Decatur-annexed portion of Limestone County, would include a “destination retailer” — almost certainly a Bass Pro Shops. It also would include a hotel and several restaurants.
The location of the proposed development is what makes it attractive.
First, it is unlikely to cause major competitive problems for other retailers in Decatur or Limestone County. The location, on the west side of the intersection of Interstates 565 and 65, is a retail vacuum. The restaurants, sporting goods store and hotel would be miles from most competitors in Limestone County and Decatur, limiting the risk of merely shifting retail dollars within the communities.
Second, the development — just west of the Madison County border — would tend to reverse the flow of disposable income that usually takes Decatur and Limestone County dollars to the east.
The result would be an influx of sales tax dollars and an increase in property taxes, which will bolster the budgets of local government and public schools in the city and county. The development would reduce the leakage of Decatur and Limestone County sales while attracting consumers from Madison County.
Finally, Sweetwater would tap interstate traffic. About 34,700 vehicles a day travel that portion of I-65. Another 52,270 travel I-565 every day. Many of these travelers come from outside Decatur and Limestone County.
They are prospective consumers who would otherwise be unlikely to spend their cash in Decatur or Limestone County.
Added to these benefits is the short-term economic boost during construction, which would come at a time when unemployment remains too high.
While the benefits would be large, so would the costs. Initial negotiations suggest the city would pay about $12 million for land and infrastructure. It also would rebate sales taxes of up to $28 million.
Some of these costs probably are inevitable if officials want to attract a major retail development to the Decatur-annexed portion of Limestone County. The city annexed the land in 1986. A quarter-century later, most of it remains agricultural.
While some of the infrastructure expenses associated with Sweetwater are specific to the initial tenants, a portion would be necessary for any retail development. Similarly, the sales-tax rebate is less troublesome than it would be if the land had not remained nearly vacant for so many years. Neither Decatur nor Limestone County can expect to enjoy sales-tax revenue from the land anytime soon unless they make an investment.
As with any deal, the question city and county leaders must answer is whether the benefits exceed the costs. Elected officials need to build independent projections to answer that question. What is clear, however, is that the benefits would be significant.
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