Despite overwhelming public opposition, the Salt Lake City Council voted Tuesday to approve a hefty tax reimbursement to a developer in the city’s northwest quadrant, where an inland port is planned.
The council, acting as the city’s redevelopment agency board, unanimously approved the tax break, which totals $28 million over 20 years to NWQ, LLC a development company based in Draper.
The city approved the developer’s contract just weeks before the Utah legislature created the inland port in March 2018.
“The tax increment agreement is the final step of fulfilling the City’s contracts with NWQ, LLC who is willing to develop their property and operate with the City as a fair partner,” the City Council and Mayor Jackie Biskupski wrote in a joint statement after the council approved the deal.
Several council members described the vote as a difficult decision and said it was much more complicated than a simple yes-or-no vote on a deal for developers.
“If we vote no, that doesn’t mean that the development will not happen. It means that the city’s oversight ends,” Councilman Charlie Luke said. “In my second term on the city council, this is by far the hardest vote I’ve ever made”
Councilwoman Erin Mendenhnall, who is running for mayor, said that breaking the contract “would result in the city losing planning control, environmental standards and tax revenue from 7,000 acres of the northwest quadrant, including 4,000 acres of sensitive wetlands.”
The inland port has been at the center of heated debate that led to violence at one July protest. Dozens of people spoke against this tax break during two public hearings, citing concerns about health, the environment and using tax revenue for business development.
Heather Dove, president of the Great Salt Lake Audubon, pointed out that this week Salt Lake City is hosting the United Nation’s Civil Society Conference, “where it is presenting itself as a progressive, sustainable community. The inland port, including Phase 1, is not a sustainable project,” she said.
Jerome Soller, who runs a small tech company in Salt Lake City described the tax break as “corporate welfare.”
“If this is truly economically viable, it shouldn’t see one penny. You’re not dropping $28 million on any tech companies. Why? Because they’re economically viable and they create jobs,” he said.
According to an independent analysis, NWQ’s development in the area will result in millions of dollars in construction wages and an “employment center” which will create nearly 3,000 jobs.
The Inland Port Authority Board is still planning the project, which will be a large trading hub adjacent to the Salt Lake City Airport. Mayor Jackie Biskupski is currently suing the state over the project’s creation.