City grants tax break to HEB

City grants tax break to HEB

HEB is close to buying — and subsequently razing — the old Baptist Hospital at College and 11th Street in Beaumont, but some say the deal could remove access to healthy foods in low-income areas of Beaumont.

At the city’s regular Tuesday council meeting Oct. 30, city officials approved a tax break for the grocery chain totaling about $156,570 over seven years. Beaumont’s tax abatement program comprises four “Neighborhood Empowerment Zones,” which give municipal tax breaks to large companies that make investments in Beaumont of $5 million or more.

According to HEB, the company’s investment is at least $5.3 million to raze and construct a new 68,000 square-foot store and will employ about 300 people.

After construction is completed, however, HEB plans to close two stores in lower-income areas of Beaumont. The HEB on 1180 S. 11th St., just blocks from the old hospital, and the store at 3930 E. Lucas will be closed some time in 2014, the company said.

“I understand business decisions have to be made,” said Councilman Audwin Samuel in Tuesday’s meeting, “But we’re seeing an alarming trend across this country whereby they are removing grocery stores that provide wholesome foods to the inner city community.”

Samuel went on to say, while he appreciates HEB’s multi-million dollar investment in an aging and abandoned old Baptist Hospital, council members should do more to encourage grocery vendors large and small to build their business within Beaumont’s poorest areas. Samuel said the inner city’s lack of healthy options is hurting Beaumont’s most vulnerable citizens.

“I think it’s devastating,” Samuel said, seeming to refer primarily to the HEB on East Lucas in Beaumont’s North End neighborhood, which is in Samuel’s Ward 3. “And it struck me like a ton of bricks when I saw there are no grocery stores on this side of Interstate 10.”

Smaller grocers do exist in poorer areas of Beaumont, but Councilman W.L. Pate said the days of the neighborhood mom-and-pop grocers have long been over.

“When I grew up ... every neighborhood had an Italian grocery store,” he said, adding residents in his day could walk to various independent grocers.

Pate said removing the old Baptist Hospital and replacing it with an HEB at least twice the size of the Lucas and 11th Street stores is in the city’s best interest.

“Since some of us have spent some time in that old Baptist Hospital, those of us that are a little older,” Pate said, “we’d be happy to not see that building there anymore and replaced with a building that employs people and is on the tax rolls — eventually.”

In recent months, city officials have bent over backward to accommodate a deal with HEB, abandoning multiple easements in the area and working closely with company officials.

According to the council agenda, “Staff is already very familiar with this project and has already been working closely with the real estate and design professionals from Baptist Hospital and HEB in an effort to bring this project to fruition.”