A motion that could increase the City of Hillsdale’s income by levying taxes on the incoming Meijer grocery store planned to be built in Fayette Township failed to carry at a Nov. 6 Hillsdale City Council meeting, after local business owners spoke out against the the plan.
Called a 425 Agreement, the re-zoning arrangement would allow the City of Hillsdale and Fayette Township to share tax revenues from the Meijer corporation. Additionally, it would allow the city to offer water and electric services to Meijer via the Board of Public Utilities.
City Manager David Mackie spoke in favor of passing the agreement. He advised the council to consider that the way the city treats Meijer will signal to other corporations looking to move into the area the degree to which Hillsdale is open for business.
“If we basically turn Meijer down, which is a good Michigan-based business, the likelihood of us finding another business, whether it be manufacturing or anything else, is going to be very slim or unlikely,” he said.
Councilman Bill Zeiser voiced his agreement with Mackie, stating that it would be foolish for the city to turn away a big business that could provide jobs and revenue in the city.
Councilman Adam Stockford abstained from voting or partaking in the discussion, because his employer, Elwood Staffing, often does scouting for Meijer locations. Councilmen Matt Bell and Brian Watkins were not present at the meeting.
A large gathering of local businesses spoke out against the agreement, fearing that it might threaten their livelihood by adding a another competitor in an already crowded field of grocery stores that includes Market House, Kroger, and Wal-Mart.
Speaking through tears and in a voice cracked with passion, Market House owner Brett Boyd pleaded with the city to vote no on the 425 Agreement.
“What makes Hillsdale county unique is the family owned businesses that we are so blessed to have in our midst,” he said. “My main concern is not just about Market House and the grocery business that could be impacted, but it’s the downtown. It’s the heart of Hillsdale, the heart of Jonesville. If you look at these folks who have a long history of giving back to the community, they’re at risk. They will be threatened. They will be threatened.”
Last year, Boyd opened a Biggby Coffee franchise next door to Market House, adding another competitor to a downtown already saturated with local coffee shops such as Checker Records and Jilly Beans.
Other business owners such as Rich Galloway of Current Office Solutions, Kevin Conant of Here’s to You Pub and Grub, and Jane Stewart of Smith’s Flowers reiterated Boyd’s comments and urged the city to consider the welfare of local businesses.
“It’s a very hard decision, probably one of the hardest,” Mayor Scott Sessions said.
When it came time for council to vote, Zeiser motioned to pass the 425 Agreement. A long silence followed, and no one seconded the motion. At last, Mayor Scott Sessions cleared his throat and said: “Alright, motion fails to carry.”
As the meeting was drawing to a close, Councilman Bruce Sharp said he chose not to vote for the agreement because of Boyd’s speech.
“I will always support local businesses first,” he said. “We are family in this town and we will always be that way.”
Zeiser said he does not foresee much growth for Hillsdale if council continues to make these sorts of decisions.
“Presumably that Meijer will open in Jonesville or somewhere nearby,” he said. “The only difference is we won’t get any taxable revenue from it.”
Mackie confirmed this statement, saying that Meijer could potentially partner with another city for taxes and utility services.
After the meeting, Zeiser told The Collegian that the motion for the 425 Agreement is not necessarily dead because council did not vote on it. He also mentioned that even if it was dead, the City of Hillsdale and Fayette Township could potentially restructure the agreement and bring it up again soon.
“It’s still an open issue,” he said. “I’ll do everything I can to help it along.”