Trader Joe’s made an announcement they will withdraw from opening up a grocery store in the northeast part of Portland, Oregon right off Martin Luther King Drive and Alberta. There were plans by Trader Joe’s to build a grocery store on a very huge vacant lot to serve a community some consider a food desert. Due to Trader Joe’s withdrawal, we have seen a media frenzy report blaming an African-American community organization group called the PAALF for the fallout. In the media, there has been this claim that Black people in Portland feared Trader Joe’s would bring too many White people to the area. Why is this information and news very important to the cats on the South Side of Chicago? Well, the more you look at what was going to happen here with Trader Joe’s and what was about to go down, it looks kind of familiar to what is about to go down in Chicago right? Yeah, take a look at this vacant lot on 63rd and Halsted: “The Chicago Plan Commission approved the retail portion of a project anchored by Whole Foods on the northwest corner of 63rd and Halsted streets across from Kennedy-King College.” Wow, that empty lot in Chicago look like the same empty lot over in Portland, don’t it! Yeah, looks like someone going to try to pull that same move on your South Side cats and when you read this Portland thing, you going to be like “damn, this is the exact same script!” and that’s right, it is the same script. So it is important the South Side of Chicago review and analyze what went down over in Portland, Oregon for some teachable moments so we can better understand what to expect with the Whole Foods deal over there on 63rd and Halsted. I think it is best to first discuss all of the people involved because there are a lot of things going on at play. So let’s break down all of the elements into this story so there can be some objectivity: Trader Joe’s Trader Joe’s is pretty much a boutique supermarket chain for hippies and eccentric characters, the same thing can be said about Whole Foods. The format of Trader Joe’s is smaller than a supermarket and is pretty much designed to be a fashion statement for an upscale urban community. In the Portland deal, a real estate company out of California hired a local Black-owned construction firm that would build a multi-retailer site with Trader Joe’s as the anchor. Northeast Portland
View Larger Map
I have embedded a StreetView map in the article so you can take a virtual walk around the community and I want you to check out the housing and the people around the area. To be honest, we already documented this area in our upcoming Hustle Space section called Hood Space where we document business models in hoods around the country so I’m familiar with the area from my research. I had a hard time considering this specific area a “Black community” but there is another part of MLK if you navigate on the StreetView map where trust me, you will instantly recognize the Black neighborhood.
Portland Development Commission
We covered these lame PDC characters on Dream and Hustle years ago with a full article on how these characters tried to revitalize Portland to make it an urban destination attractive to only White people and that effort mostly failed. Don’t let the symbolic images of people in color in the video above fool you – PDC was promoting White Privilege in their urban renewal efforts. So I’m going to be honest – if they messed up the urban renewal efforts for the downtown area, you think I trust these characters when it comes to this Trader Joe’s matter? No, I don’t trust the PDC or have confidence in whatever they do until the PDC show genuine honesty they are serious about bringing diversity to Portland in their urban renewal efforts. This was our issue here at Dream and Hustle with PDC years ago before this Trader Joe’s issue was even conceived.
Portland African American Leadership Forum
The PAALF appeared to be a Black-identity advocacy group that is engaged in fighting economic gentrification of Black neighborhoods and demand affordable housing as a solution to keep Black people staying in the community they knew all their lives. But if you look at Google Maps and see the people walking around that MLK and Alberta area Trader Joe’s supposed to be setup, it look like the PAALF lost that gentrification battle a long time ago. I hate to break the bad news to the PAALF but that vacant lot area is already gentrified and appear to be a lost cause. But it appeared PAALF wanted a voice in the Trader Joe’s development project and attempted to leverage a deal for affordable housing for “oppressed people” to come with the package.
This is the most important part of this whole conversation – you can ignore everything in this article but do not ignore this section about tax-increment-financing or TIF as this is the most important part of the whole story here that glue everything together. In a nutshell, tax-increment-financing is where politicians finance a these private enterprise development project with your real estate taxes, and I hope you understand this is what TIF is. And I hope your behind understand your real estate taxes should be paying for your local school system, parks and recreation in your community and other community-based endeavors.
You Chicago people heard of TIF so don’t act too naïve because you know that politicians used TIF to finance projects for their political buddies to construct something with the cheapest material possible and overcharge the TIF and take the money and run. Then what happen next is the business that was started on the TIF shut down after the TIF expiration, leaving the Black community holding the bag and have to divert their real estate taxes to pay off the TIF debt. And guess what happen to the schools in the Black community? They have to be shut down the schools in the Black community because of “funding issues” – does that sound familiar to you cats in Chicago?
Ben Joravsky said it best in the Chicago Reader article about TIFs:
When the City Council—at the mayor's urging—creates a TIF district, it freezes the amount CPS takes from property taxpayers in that district for up to 24 years. If CPS was getting $100 in taxes when the TIF was created, that's all it will get for as long as the TIF exists. That forces taxpayers throughout the city to pay more in property taxes to compensate for the tax dollars CPS isn't getting from the 160 or so TIF districts the mayor and City Council have felt compelled to create.
In effect, a TIF is a tax hike where the mayor raises property taxes in the name of something you presumably want—like schools or parks—so he can spend it on something you don't need. Like a basketball arena for DePaul University, to cite one recent example.
Analysis of the Situation in Portland
It appeared the more realistic reason Trader Joe’s pulled out of the deal has nothing to do with PAALF which is a conservative smoke screen. I find it funny some conservative blogger would criticize an African-American organization who want their tax dollars invested back into their community and have a say so in how the tax dollars are spent when that whole tax premise is what the whole Tea Party stuff is about. Talk about some damn hypocrisy there. There is a report out there the Black-owned construction firm has a member with a seat on the Portland Development Commission and was at a little party with the real-estate developers and that most likely looked too damn shady for Trader Joe’s which pulled out.
PAALF was made a scapegoat by anti-Black conservative media and the PAALF were caught off-guard by Trader Joe’s pulling out of the deal and lost their leverage. However, I find it silly for the PAALF to talk about affordable housing and I hate that topic and wish these community organizers stop talking that affordable housing bullcrap. There is no such thing as “affordable” housing, just cheap housing that gives some politically connected building developer a fat contract to build cheap homes for single moms to keep having more babies out of wedlock. Because they damn sure don’t give those affordable housing to young Black men, do they?
PAALF was also extremely flawed as they focused on staying “Black face” on the issue and not focus on income inequality which is would have aligned them with President Obama initiatives. This group should have never sent that stupid demand letter – have you guys read the letter?
“Suspend all further TIF funded development in Interstate Corridor Urban Renewal Area.”
“Suspend the development of the property on NE MLK Jr. Blvd. and Alberta St. until a sufficient amount of affordable housing is incorporated and an independent, community-controlled body can negotiate a legally binding community benefits agreement.”
“We request a response to this letter by January 14, 2014.”
The letter was highly emotionally charged and appeared to be written by weak-minded emotional Black people who bark is louder than their bite. What was the PAALF going to do if their demands were not met? They wasn’t going to do a damn thing, plain and simple – like every other lame Black community organization group.
PAALF had no leverage or strategy except disruption to deal with gentrification and PAALF can be dismissed as extremely ineffectual. In my opinion, PAALF is just a worthless group and I believe they are kind of Boule. Had PAALF thought things through, they would have been better off leveraging the acquisition of land in that area around Trader Joe’s site and used it to create economic development centers to attract more minority businesses. We don’t need affordable housing – we need Black entrepreneurs and business owners who can provide jobs and future growth with the community in mind. PAALF socialist agenda and anti-capital angle with the “affordable housing” crap is the problem I have with many of these silly community organization groups in the Black community.
Trader Joe’s is full of crap about just wanting to open up a grocery store where they are welcomed, that is the biggest bullcrap line I ever heard in my life. Trader Joe’s is a corporation and has already done a full analysis of the area and potential income and the fact they were interested in the first place is an indication they were interested in getting into inner city Portland. But here is what we know about Trader Joe’s because it the same story with everybody else – they wanted the city provide TIF funding and other subsidies for them to build a store in the inner city. Go ahead and do a search on “Trader Joe’s TIF” and you will how full of crap Trader Joe’s really is about just wanting to open up in a community that welcome them.
The Take Away for Chicago South Side Cats
The Chicago Plan Commission approved the retail portion of a project anchored by Whole Foods on the northwest corner of 63rd and Halsted streets across from Kennedy-King College.
Englewood community leaders said the store will provide a “great sense of hope” for a neighborhood besieged by violence that has precious few healthy food choices.
The project depends on an $11 million city subsidy for site preparation that will require an expiring tax-increment financing district to be extended while money is “ported over” from a neighboring TIF.
As you cats in Chicago should realized by now, this is a scheme that is going on across the country, not just on 63rd and Halsted. We have discussed for years the revenue income potential for small-format grocery stores in the inner city and why these supermarkets and big box stores want to get into the high density inner city. And politicians literally give the community tax dollars away in the form of TIF to appease these big box stores who have more than enough money to pay for their own development. Most of the politicians got deals going on in the back somewhere that is hidden when it comes to these TIF deals.
The Black community should demand and decrease the amount of TIF funds for any big box commercial development. In fact, there should be zero TIF going to any new development on the South Side and West Side as there have been already a slew of TIF failures that the local neighborhoods have to offset their real estate tax dollars to pay off while their local school get funding cuts or shut down altogether. It has to be understood by the Black community in Chicago that TIF is designed to in the long term as a gentrification tool to exaggerate the price/value of land development, divert local real estate taxes and leave homeowners footing the bill and not having their tax dollars used to invest back into the social structure of the local community.
One of the biggest failures of the PAALF is they chased Black identity – a recurring problem when it comes to these worthless Black community organizations and these Black community organizer characters. These are urban economic issues and you need people with strategy and intelligence involved and experience on these issues, not silly community organizers who do nothing but run their damn mouth of rhetoric. Build a coalition of people from the community and other areas up on the North Side to take on the TIF issue. The media swarmed all over the PAALF portraying them as a “Black organization” that hate White people coming in raising the land value and this is the same failure move these community groups always make trying to keep things Black identity in the 21st century.
The one big takeaway I would advise cats on the South Side of Chicago around the 63rd and Halsted area is to make sure there are subsidies for smaller enterprises to be able to open up shop in that area. I’m not talking some cute boutique shop – I’m talking also set aside some space to accommodate an enterprise that can employ at least 25 to 50 brothas and sistas. This can be a micro-manufacturer or something similar to that effect. Do not argue for affordable housing – that is stupid and worthless and brings nothing of value or progress for economic development in our community. What is important in the Black community is job creation and cultivating entrepreneurs, nothing else is more important than that when it comes to our interest.