Outstanding ‘Boxed In’ Documentary Film Explains Dark Stores Tax Loophole Issue in Michigan

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There is a fantastic new documentary film that does an outstanding job explaining the complex, yet devastating “Dark Stores” tax loophole issue facing Michigan communities. This is a hot topic the Michigan Municipal League has been fighting for more than a year and at a compact 24-minutes it is great film to show in your local communities when explaining this issue.

“Boxed In” is a documentary by Northern Michigan University Professor Dwight Brady, an Emmy Award winning producer, and 14 NMU students.

It premiered in Marquette Aug. 24 and will be shown again Wednesday, Aug. 31, in Escanaba at 7 p.m. in the Besse Theater at Bay College.

You can watch the documentary and read more about it, including a press release, here: http://boxedin.news/what-is-boxed-in-all-about/.

Attorney Jack Van Coevering is featured in 'Box In'.

Attorney Jack Van Coevering is featured in ‘Box In’.

You can also read more information about the Dark Stores issue on the League’s Dark Stores resource page here: http://www.mml.org/advocacy/dark-stores/.

In essence, the Dark Store theory is a tax loophole scheme being used by Big Box retailers to lower the amount they pay in property taxes. Retailers such as Meijer, Lowe’s, Target, Kohl’s, Menards, IKEA, Wal-Mart and Home Depot across Michigan are arguing that the market value of their operating store should be based on the sales of similar size “comparable” properties that are vacant and abandoned and may not even be located in Michigan. The stores also place deed restrictions on the vacated buildings that greatly limit what can go in the buildings once they are empty and become dark.

A bill to address the issue was overwhelming approved in the Michigan House in a 97-11 vote (http://blogs.mml.org/wp/inside208/2016/06/08/dark-stores-fix-wins-approval-in-house/) in June, but is pending in the state Senate where greater opposition is expected.

An example of a Dark Store. Big Box stores argue vacant, or dark stores, like this one should be used as a comparable for tax evaluation purposes when valuing a vibrant, open big box store. Unfortunately the Michigan Tax Tribunal since 2010 has started to agree.

An example of a Dark Store. Big Box stores argue vacant, or dark stores, like this one should be used as a comparable for tax evaluation purposes when valuing a vibrant, open big box store. Unfortunately the Michigan Tax Tribunal since 2010 has started to agree.

The documentary film started out as a class project but it quickly developed into a much larger story that took Dr. Brady and his students from Marquette, to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Grand Blanc and other other stops along the way.

They interviewed 15 different sources, including State Rep. David Maturen, who authored the bill that was approved in the House. The bill would require the Michigan State Tax Tribunal to follow traditional methods of assessing property.

The students also interviewed Grand Blanc Township Superintendent Dennis Liimatta, current Chair of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, Steven Lasher, and Former Chief Judge Jack Van Coevering to get different perspectives on the issue. Read more about the film here: http://boxedin.news/what-is-boxed-in-all-about/.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 734-669-6317.