When the R.C. Willey Co. decided to build a store in Orem, city and chamber of commerce leaders lauded it as a much-needed addition to the valley.
Not everyone celebrated.The process by which city officials got R.C. Willey to build there has some citizens and business owners concerned about how cities go about wooing businesses.
In particular, the president of Granite Furniture said the process was "another example of the abuses of the Utah Community Redevelopment law."
Orem, by designating the land at the corner of 13th South and Main Street a redevelopment district, was able to purchase the land and sell it at half the purchase price to R.C. Willey.
Stephen Richards, president of Granite Furniture, wrote a letter to Orem Mayor Blaine Willes criticizing the city for the deal.
"This action has serious negative public policy implications. What clearly is a windfall for R.C. Willey levels a threat against other existing businesses."
But the practice of designating an area a redevelopment district is not an Orem invention. Jonnalyne Walker, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency of South Salt Lake, said the method is one of several that city uses to attract business. "It depends on the development."
Orem officials agree that they have not set any precedents by making the agreement with R.C. Willey and argue that the land sale will eventually pay for itself. "I don't think Provo and Orem do as much as other places," said Stewart Taylor, Orem assistant city manager.
Taylor said cities need to make those kinds of moves if they're to keep property taxes down. "Many people don't realize that 60 percent of Orem sales taxes are collected from people who don't live in Orem."
Delance Squire, director of the Commission for Economic Development in Orem, said the city's move in the R.C. Willey arrangement is an old one. He cited an example in which General Motors located in Alabama because the company was offered $543 million to do so.
Gary Golightly, Provo's economic development director, would not criticize Orem for its tactics but did say Provo does not use the same methods to attract business.
Provo, however, has managed to pull off some pretty large development accomplishments. Boyd Worthington, in charge of facilities at Novell, said his company chose Provo's East Bay, developed by the Boyer Co., because that was the least expensive of all the bids. That includes bids that came from Orem's Timpanogos Research Park. "I'm sure the Boyer Co. got a great deal on the land," Worthington said.
Richards' complaint, however, raised the issue of unfair competition. When R.C. Willey completes construction, the store will be a short drive away from an existing Granite Furniture store in Provo. Granite recently remodeled the store and added a parking structure with no financial help from Provo.