An introduction to “dark store” theory

| Aug 3, 2020 | Commercial Property Tax Appeals

Big-box stores are in many Minnesota communities, centers of commerce and employment, as well as gathering places where recipes, local news and gossip are exchanged by neighbors. Giant superstores are in many ways a modern necessity that provides one-stop shopping in cities and towns that are for a significant portion of the year huddled against the bitter cold and blowing snow.

Life in the Upper Midwest can be rugged, so the convenience of big-box retailers is especially appreciated across Minnesota, North Dakota, northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Though beautiful, not everyone loves it

Known colloquially as the U.P., Michigan’s Upper Peninsula holds nearly a third of the state’s land, but only 3 percent of its population. Though gorgeous, the sparsely populated region is often described as desolate (especially in winter) by detractors.

On the shore of Lake Superior sit a pair of towns that share a name. Marquette is the larger of the pair, with its 21,000-plus residents, while Marquette Township (pop. 3,200) is something of a shopping destination in the area.

In the early 2000s, Marquette Township encouraged big-box retail chains to locate their large stores on its western edge. Now it has a Walmart Superstore, as well as a Lowe’s, PetSmart, Best Buy and Target.

Commercial property taxes start to drop

Back in 2016, the township saw its commercial property tax revenues drop, as did surrounding Marquette County. According to a news article, the drop in commercial property tax revenue was not due to stores closing or natural disasters, but because the Michigan Tax Tribunal allowed the owners of the commercial properties on which big-box retailers sat to get reductions in their property tax assessments – reductions in some cases by as much as half.

The successful commercial property tax appeals relied on something called the “dark store” strategy. (“Star Wars” fans will undoubtedly pick up on the allusion. Don’t worry. There’s no evil empire in this story.)

We’ll have more on “dark store” in upcoming posts. Please check back.