Wednesday, August 21, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: James Troutman, of Troutman & Dams, during an Aug. 20 regular Maywood Board of Trustees meeting. The board voted down his request for a tax break. | Michael Romain
During a regular meeting on Aug. 20, the Maywood Board of Trustees voted 6-1 against directing staff to draft a resolution in support of Cook County granting a property tax break for developers looking to turn the old Aldi grocery store at 215 Madison St. into a blood plasma donation center. Mayor Edwenna Perkins was the only vote in favor of the motion.
The vote was a blow to Troutman & Dams LLC, the real estate development firm that purchased the former grocery store from Aldi in June for an undisclosed amount of money in order to lease the property to Biomat USA, Inc. — the Los Angeles-based company that will manage the blood plasma donation center. Biomat USA is a subsidiary of Grifols Plasma, which is based in Spain and is the world’s largest operator of plasma donor centers.
As previously reported, Troutman & Dams recently filed for a Class 7A Cook County property tax incentive, which would assess the property for 12 years at rates lower than the standard 25 percent rate that commercial properties are typically assessed. The property would be assessed at 10 percent of market value for 10 years, and 15 percent and 20 percent in the last two years of the deal, respectively.
The Cook County Class 7A is offered to businesses seeking to locate in areas that have historically suffered from high unemployment rates, a chronic lack of viable commercial development and low median family income levels, among other factors.
James Troutman, a principal at Troutman & Dams, said that his firm could easily see a $114,000 tax bill next year. A Class 7A tax break could reduce that bill to around $46,000 — a roughly $68,000 decrease, Troutman said. In its tax incentive application, the firm explained that the tax break “is key to the redevelopment of the” former Aldi.
Troutman said that his firm has already started environmental remediation on the site. According to the application, construction on the nearly 16,000-square-foot former Aldi store is expected to be finished in October, with Biomats expected to move into the store by December. The total cost of the redevelopment is projected to cost $1.8 million.
Troutman & Dams officials explained that the rehabilitation would create between 50 and 60 construction jobs and that the plasma donation center, once its running, will create 40 “new permanent full-time” jobs.
Plasma is the clear, yellowish, liquid part of blood that holds proteins and antibodies used to treat a range of rare, chronic and life-threatening conditions, such as hemophilia. In the United States, people can donate plasma up to twice a week. Troutman’s application explains that Biomat compensates donors by a Visa gift card, “which could result in up to $400 per month in donor income.”
Those plans, however, may be coming to a halt now that the board voted against supporting the county tax break.
During the Aug. 20 meeting, board members and community members who spoke during public comment were almost unanimously against a blood plasma donation center moving into what was once the village’s only full-service grocery store — one right across the street from Proviso East High School no less.
“I’m not a fan of the location of this establishment,” said Trustee Isiah Brandon. “Maybe somewhere else in the community and I’d be willing to negotiate.”
“You’re asking for an incentive and I’m trying to see how the community wins on this besides just not having a closed building,” said Trustee Nathaniel George Booker.
Trustees Miguel Jones and Antonio Sanchez, who both said that they donated plasma while in college in return for much-needed cash, were sympathetic to Troutman & Dams’ case, but did not approve of the blood plasma donation center’s location.
James Clark, a Maywood resident and businessman, expressed concerns about the prospect of teenagers from Proviso East High School attempting to donate blood plasma — a prospect that prompted Booker to mull the possibility of the village passing an ordinance setting a minimum age for plasma donors.
Proponents of blood plasma donation centers say that they provide people in need of immediate cash with critical financial support while supplying a life-saving resource that’s in high demand.
Critics of the industry, however, say that blood donation companies have made the desperation of poor people into a $20 billion industry. According to a February report in the New York Times, the companies “locate their collection centers disproportionately in destitute neighborhoods, according to Heather Olsen, who, as a graduate student researcher at Case Western Reserve University, examined 40 years of data on collection centers across the country. ‘They’re surgically placing these,’ she said.
“I was surprised to hear there was a sentiment against plasma collection companies,” Troutman told board members on Aug. 20, adding that the stigmatized perception of plasma donation centers as undesirable areas that attract drug addicts is far from the reality.
Troutman said that “clients are rigorously screened” for illegal drug use and chronic disease and that the Biomat has “a vested interest to ensure that those regular donors are comfortable.”
When asked by a board member what might happen if the village voted against the resolution in support of the county tax incentive, Troutman said that his firm “would have to go back to the drawing board” and “figure out how we can make something work in that building.”
That may be much harder said than done, Eric Dams, another principal of Troutman & Dams, indicated. Dams said that before considering Biomat as a tenant, his firm conducted a rigorous search for grocery retailers and auto part stores, among other prospective tenants. None, however, were interested in moving into the former Aldi location.
“Either the property was too small or too expensive,” Dams said, referencing reasons that businesses gave for why the former grocery store was not attractive. Another major reason is the concentric circle of grocery stores within a two-mile radius of the old Aldi site, said Angela Smith, Maywood’s business coordinator.
“If you go two miles to the east, two miles to the north, two miles to the south and two miles to the west, there’s a grocery store,” Smith explained. “So, it’s hard to attract another grocer to this area, because of that.”
“Despite all of our marketing efforts of over a year to market this to everyone … nobody else had interest until the plasma center showed up several months ago,” Dams said.
Grifols has apparently been attempting to gain entry into Maywood for some time. In February, the company was before the board with a different broker expressing interest in another former grocery store site, the old Maywood Market Food Center at 615 S. 5th Ave. — a property that is owned by the village. The village board rebuffed those efforts. At the time, Grifols indicated that they would consider an alternate site — the old Aldi at 215 Madison St. — said David Myers, the village’s economic development director.
This time, Grifols did not need to go before the board, because the store is not village-owned and a blood plasma donation center is an allowable use, according to the village’s zoning ordinance, Myers explained.
Troutman said that Grifols’ market research into Maywood and the surrounding areas determined that the old Aldi was an attractive site for a blood plasma donation center. VFP
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