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Nebraska Wastes Taxpayer Money on New Mall Boondoggle

Nebraska’s demolition of an old mall earlier this year could have been a story about the declining fortunes of malls in a digital age. Malls across the country have been abandoned or repurposed for schools or clinics in large part because online shopping offers more and better benefits for the consumer than the bricks-and-mortar retail experience. Demolishing or converting an old mall would have been a realistic response to this trend.

Nebraska, however, decided to construct a new $122 million dollar mall on the site of the old one—and taxpayers are paying for more than half of it. Nebraska Watchdog reports that developers tapped “every incentive program available in Nebraska” to build the mall, including bond programs and tax proceeds. Supporters claim that the mall will spur economic development in the area, but critics are skeptical:

[Research analyst Leah McIlvaine] cited a study by a St. Louis regional planning agency that found that $2 billion in public subsidies for malls and retail projects in the St. Louis area resulted in negligible job growth […]

The redevelopment plan envisions attracting out-of-state shoppers, increasing tourism and housing demand. But McIlvaine is doubtful. The Mall of America in Minnesota also is looking for subsidies to expand, but that’s different, she said. That mall actually does bring in tourists from all over the world.

“Do I think an outlet mall outside of Grenta, Nebraska, is going to be pulling tourists from Iceland?,” she said. “I don’t.”

In heavily subsidizing this mall with taxpayer money, Nebraska (and not just Nebraska, as the above quote shows) is looking to the past for solutions instead of investing in the future. If some niche malls can continue to thrive on their own, we wish them all the best. But meanwhile, government resources, if anything, should go towards to greasing the skids of innovation.

[Image from Death and Taxes. Click through to see many more.]

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  • rheddles

    Now I can pull Grenta off my bucket list. If only I didn’t have to go to Gretna.

  • USNK2

    Does no one at Via Media know how to read a map?
    “…Nebraska Crossing Outlets…will draw 3 million to 4 million visitors each year from a 150-mile radius, …”
    Nebraska has the lowest per capita tax debt in the USA. If they want to use legal tax credits, etc for an outlet mall in a terrific location, why not?
    If Trader Joe’s shows up in Gretna, Nebraska, then it WILL be a destination that drives growth.

    • ojfl

      The problem is always USNK that if indeed there will be that much demand the private sector should do it, not government. The fact they have to use tax credits, etc. shows that the venture cannot be profitable without them.

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