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Sturgeon Bay hopes Delavan's "dark store" win is their gain

The City of Sturgeon Bay and Wal-Mart will go toe-to-toe over assessments in the coming months, but Administrator Josh Vanlieshout hopes a Wisconsin State Supreme Court case from earlier this year helps them be more successful.


The Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust filed their most recent suit against the city on August 4th, charging the city with over-assessing their property. Two previous settlements between the two sides have been reached, shaving a couple hundred thousand dollars off Wal-Mart’s assessments and their property taxes each time. The impact of those settlements in turn could lead to higher taxes for the city’s other property owners. Often called the “dark store theory,” big-box retailers have been successful in getting their property assessments lowered by comparing their stores to others across the state whether they are shuttered or not.


Municipalities received a boost against the practice in February when the City of Delavan won its case against the hardware store Lowe’s in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Lowe’s was challenging the city’s assessment of their property was overvalued and they wanted it lowered by 50 percent. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the hardware store did not use comparable properties when applying for their assessment change. Van Lieshout is not sure what it will mean for its case against Wal-Mart this time, but hopes it can at least help.

Supporters of the dark store theory include the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2018 that it opposed legislation to fix the “dark store theory” loophole because it would force retailers to pay more than their share of property taxes. Vanlieshout says they are used to this process and the city will have to wait and see on what happens next.


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