Local business owner frustrated with potential Texas Roadhouse tax abatement


By Christine Holmes and Jessica Johnston

Following Tuesday evening’s Community Development Committee meeting regarding a proposed tax relief for Texas Roadhouse, local businesses are expressing their concerns with the requested financial generosity.

Jim Watson, owner of The Barn, recently sent a letter to Zanesville City Council members voicing his concerns with allowing a chain restaurant like Texas Roadhouse to be granted such a large tax break. While Watson said paying 25 percent of the taxes is better than nothing, he believes the chain restaurant acquires more than enough revenue to pay local taxes.

“If they want to be in our community, they can invest to be in our community without us enticing them to be here,” Watson said. “Do we really need to have another restaurant to the point that we’re sacrificing, you know, the tax payments that go to our local schools, to our local infrastructure and all those kind of things to get them here.”

Members of the Community Development Committee voted during the meeting to send the ordinance to city council without any recommendation.

Meridian Realty Capital, LLC is asking the City of Zanesville to grant a 15 year tax abatement at 75 percent through the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District for the purpose of urban redevelopment. Originally the company was asking for a 100 percent tax abatement for 30 years.

“My feeling on them even asking for 75, that they’re going to pay 25 percent of their taxes for the next 15 years that … they care only 25 percent about our community,” Watson said. “That they don’t think it’s worth it to them to be able to invest in our community through those tax dollars for the next 15 years.”

Watson is not the only local business that isn’t jumping on board with the idea of providing such a large tax break.

During the meeting Tuesday, Community Development Committee chairman Mark Baker said many local businesses did not support the financial incentive to help the restaurant come into town.

“We’ve heard from business owners that have a problem with that because they’re unconvinced that it would actually bring more customers into their own businesses than the new business would take away their own customers,” said Baker.

Baker added that many businesses have been operating for decades, through all types of business climates, without the assistance of tax abatements.

Council member Jan Bradshaw firmly expressed her firm opposition to the tax break, motioning to kill the ordinance at committee level before it could ever be presented to council.

Backing her motion was Constance Norman, with Baker and Sandy Gentry in disagreement.

Bradshaw said it is unjust to local businesses to give the chain restaurant such a sizable tax break.

“To me it seems like ever since they contacted us, they’ve been trying to ram it down our throats that we want to do this,” said Bradshaw.

Bradshaw explained that she may have felt differently if the demands weren’t so high.

“I felt that wasn’t the right amount,” said Bradshaw. “ If they would have come down to what we normally negotiate to, then it would have been a different story. They’re not offering any infrastructure.”

In the past, TIF Districts have been implemented within the City, especially along Northpointe Drive, but those districts were created with the intention that the city would directly benefit from infrastructure improvements, explained Community Development Director Jay Bennett during a prior meeting.

Baker explained that the developer is, however, offering to address environmental problems near the project site so other businesses can also use the land.

“So that’s what the city would get in-part in exchange for the 75-15 agreement,” said Baker.

However, Baker also said the persisting environmental issues have not been shared with the city.

“I think it’s important to have the input of representative from all over the wards and hear their ideas,” said Baker, who initiated a second motion to send the ordinance to council without a committee recommendation.

During the second vote, all members but Bradshaw agreed.

While many people, business owners and community members alike, are expressing their strong feelings about the proposed tax abatement, an ordinance will not go before council for the first reading until Monday. The final decision will not be made until March.