Commission Continuing Talks On Attracting New Businesses
The types of businesses Newtown should be targeting to attract was again a topic of discussion at the September 21 Economic Development Commission (EDC) meeting.
EDC Chairman Wes Thompson said at the commission’s previous meeting that he asked members to poll friends and family about what businesses they would like to see in town. Commission member Valerie Fallon said she posted the question in the “Nicer Newtown” Facebook group and received 310 responses.
“The biggest answers were Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, followed by a book store,” said Fallon. “A lot of people were interested in family-oriented sports, like a bowling alley or mini-golf.”
She said that people also “miss the Dollar Store” and would like to see the return of that chain or something like Job Lot. Other popular requests were a national or large clothing retailer, a shoe store, or more fast food restaurants.
Fallon said five or six people wanted medium- to large-scale manufacturing to increase the tax base, and there were some requests for affordable housing for seniors and young professionals. The list was rounded out by requests for museums and art galleries and some requests for various ethnic food restaurants like Spanish, Greek, and Ethiopian.
“Are they going to maintain, that’s the question,” said Commission member Steve Matiatos.
The Newtown Bee also ran a Facebook poll on the question and received similar results, with some additional suggestions being a medical complex or high tech manufacturing, an outdoor sports center with activities such as rock climbing, and a “queer positive coffee place where open mic nights can be hosted.”
Fallon said she worried about the idea of new grocery stores coming to town.
“Do we need another grocer?” she asked.
Thompson said another problem with an additional grocery store would involve where such a store could go in. Many existing smaller retail locations or plazas could not accommodate the space needs of a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
And shopping centers that already have a grocery store likely have clauses in their lease agreements that other grocery stores will not be allowed as tenants.
Matiatos asked if there were any statistics on what store fronts were open and their square footage. Thompson replied that coming up with such a list was the commission’s job, but that the commission needed to be careful as they are not allowed to be a “listing agent” or represent businesses in real estate agreements.
Thompson recommended that if the commission were to do a new list of open spaces, it should be a “group effort and not slammed on one person.”
Commission member Barbara Snyder noted there was “quite a bit” of open space in town.
“We’re always concerned about business spaces that are empty and available,” said Thompson. “I encourage commission members to keep their eyeballs on the town, to see if things are vacant or moving out.”
He said it is important for the commission to understand why the town may have lost a business, as well as what they can do to help fill the space again. Thompson said the commission looking out was important, as they are not always informed by realtors about what may be moving into or out of spaces in town.
Thompson said that the commission should consider carefully what businesses to bring to town, noting that recently that the Economic and Community Development Department was contacted by a prospective buyer looking for warehouse space and outside open space to store things like used hoses and tires.
“It’s part of our job to try and keep Newtown looking like it does, but also if it doesn’t change, we’re in trouble, too,” said Thompson.
With manufacturing, Thomson noted that “people often confuse the size of the building with revenue” to the town. He said that two manufacturing companies with similar appraisals, one $6 million, the other over $5 million, could have wildly different taxes depending on what is taxable.
Equipment used in manufacture and fabrication are not taxable, so the first company is paying $24,000 in personal property taxes; while the second company is paying $136,000 in personal property taxes because it has things like forklifts and other equipment not used for fabrication.
He also noted that manufacturing is not necessarily bringing in the biggest real estate taxes, noting that one manufacturer in town is paying $145,000 in real estate taxes but an assisted living home is paying $300,000 per year in real estate taxes.
“We have to weight the relative contributions to the town,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that value to the town might also be expressed in ways other than just taxes. For example, the Country Camper coming to town is expected to be a “destination,” a place that will attract people from other parts of New England and even across the country, according to its owners.
“Country Camper is turning an eyesore into a productive property,” said Thompson, who noted that real estate taxes on the property is increasing from $50,000 to $160,000. The company has qualified for a limited property tax deferment under the Newtown Business Incentive Program, but the temporary tax discount will only be applied to the increased assessment on improvements being done.
(See “Selectmen Okay Incentive Benefit For RV Dealership” in the March 19, 2021, edition of The Newtown Bee or online at newtownbee.com)
Thompson also noted that small retailers can be important, as they are what make “Newtown what it is.” Thompson said it is important to seek out new and unique businesses that do not scavenge business from existing places in town.
Commission members sometimes attend Newtown Board of Realtors meetings to speak with local realtors representing diverse groups of clients, and have the opportunity to “stand up and show what’s available and what the residents want,” said Thompson.
Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.