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Chamber pans Starbucks move

The St. Albert Chamber of Commerce is criticizing the city’s decision to operate a Starbucks location at Servus Credit Union Place.

The St. Albert Chamber of Commerce is criticizing the city’s decision to operate a Starbucks location at Servus Credit Union Place.

On July 4, city council agreed to spend $280,000 to open a city-owned Starbucks location at the leisure centre, prompting an uproar from several in the business community. The chamber has been silent on the issue until releasing a statement Thursday.

The decision and the process used to achieve it “show a great lack of respect for the business owners in our community who struggle daily to establish and grow their businesses in St. Albert,” the statement reads.

“The City of St. Albert does not exist to take dollars out of the pockets of small business owners in our community,” it continues. “The private sector clearly cannot compete with the apparent deep pockets and financial backing that the city can bring to the table.”

The city expects to generate net revenue of $90,000 a year from the coffee shop. The revenue will be applied to the facility’s deficit. The chamber applauded the city’s effort to decrease the tax burden on residents by increasing revenue, but the praise stopped there.

“The best way for the city to increase revenues is to work towards expanding the opportunities for private business to locate and grow in our community — not to take on a competitive role,” the chamber said.

The council decision has created many complaints about the city getting involved in business. Complaints have also centred on the fact that council twice met in private to discuss the potential deal, then passed it after one public meeting, with little chance for public input.

Chamber chair Charlene Zoltenko believes the closed-door nature of the decision is largely behind the backlash.

“With every other initiative that goes through city hall, the public gets a chance to express their concerns. In this case, they didn’t have that opportunity,” she said.

Mayor Nolan Crouse and city manager Bill Holtby have both said that the decision could have been more open.

Coun. Cathy Heron, who fully supported the Starbucks decision, agreed in hindsight that the consultation could have been better, but she pointed out that council thought at the time that it was making a simple operating decision.

“We just never predicted this reaction. We can’t slow down every decision,” Heron said.

While the negative reaction is vocal, she’s also hearing positive comments from people who want better coffee at the leisure centre, she said.

Heron’s vocal support of the deal has made her a target of an online petition that is seeking to oust council.

She explained that the basis of her support of the deal was based on a desire to be responsible to taxpayers.

“The pressure that we get from the public is enormous to get Servus Place to break even,” Heron said.

After council heard that the city could be exposed to legal liability in the range of $1 million if it reneges on the deals it’s signed, Coun. Malcolm Parker reviewed the terms of the agreements in an effort to find a way out.

Parker hasn’t committed to pursuing the matter further. As far as Mayor Nolan Crouse is concerned, the decision is final.

“Our staff have been given the responsibility to move forward and they’ll move forward,” he said.