Letter: Where's the Love?

Regarding these specious arguments we keep hearing that developers should get big grants because they want to bring a "catalyst" tenant (aka a billion-dollar national chain) to downtown Knoxville ["Developmental Problems," cover story by Matthew Everett, Nov. 29, 2012]:

The major point we repeatedly make is this: National chains were not and are not the pioneers of downtown revitalization, nor are they the catalysts of downtown Knoxville growth.

National chains are drawn to communities like downtown Knoxville not by love and a sense of community, but by the scent of profit in the pheromones of our demographics. It is not their desire to take a massive risk in a foreign community; it is their desire to ensure growing profit for their massive companies with as little risk as possible through the creative financing of our local citizenry's backs.

National chains are drawn to the energy created by local businesses and the foot traffic those long-striving folks have driven downtown. In truth it is the local entrepreneurs who were and are the key to downtown Knoxville's character and future.

So, yes, give the grants, but give the grants to visionary developers who believe in local businesses—businesses that will stay when times are bad, and will give back twice as much to their community when times are good.

Why buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than a nationally owned business?

Local retailers and restaurants return 52-79 percent of their revenue to the local economy, compared to just 14-37 percent for chains. Also, the same amount of money spent in a local business generates twice as many local jobs as a chain.

This is because the local stores and restaurants purchase many goods and services from other local businesses, while national chains do not. In addition, local businesses have their offices in the area in which they do business, while national chains do not.

In other words, supporting local businesses actually puts many more millions of dollars into our local governmental budgets, business tills, and workers' hands than does giving multi-million-dollar handouts to multi-million-dollar national chains.

We are not opposed to grants for development downtown—but we think the argument that a developer can only receive governmental grants (i.e. tax dollars) if and only if a national chain is his tenant, is problematic. Surely local businesses are capable and deserving, too.

To tell Knoxville's citizens to support local businesses, local artists, and local farmers markets while simultaneously utilizing the powers of local government to give massive incentives to national chains to convert historic downtown Knoxville to Anywhere USA, is problematic.

Bernadette & Scott West