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Upping the Anti-

BY CSA STAFF

If you could choose between having a dump or a casino in your backyard, which would it be?

It didn’t take me but about a half-second to answer “neither,” and I’m feeling pretty comfortable that you’re in agreement. And a whole lot of Americans are with us.

The most recent Saint Index survey of Americans’ attitudes toward development revealed that casinos are now tied with landfills as the most-opposed type of local real estate project. The 2007 report, created by New York City-based Saint Consulting Group with the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Economic and Civic Opinion, polled 1,000 respondents in the third quarter of 2007.

The index found that 76% of American adults oppose a casino development in their hometowns, an increase from 67% a year ago. In Canada, casinos are also vehemently opposed—85% of Canadian adults say they would fight one in their communities.

And, yet, these same people who hate casinos and despise landfills and wail against Wal-Mart also crave convenience and desire increased services. Or do they really? Nationwide, 78% of Americans say they believe there should be no new development in their hometowns, claiming their communities are just fine the way they are—or are already overdeveloped. This is up from 73% a year ago.

Maybe it’s because I live in a Smart Growth community that I can’t say I oppose development of all kinds. Growth in Lincoln, Neb., is so carefully controlled that I feel shopping-strangled and entertainment-deprived. While a casino wouldn’t excite me, news of an upscale center or desirable retail arrival would set my heart to hammering. Clearly I am in the minority, as the survey found most Americans are far more willing to fight local development projects than support them. Why? Thirty-one percent said that, by opposing development, they are protecting community character, 22% said they are protecting the environment and 21% claim their motivations are in deterring increased traffic. Ten percent say they are protecting their own real estate values—but the Saint Consulting Group doesn’t buy it.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the real reason Americans oppose development is self interest,” said Patrick Fox, president. “They are protecting their own real estate values.” Fox felt the 10% of respondents who admitted to protecting their own interests was not an accurate gauge of how Americans really feel.

Fox recommended that developers look beyond what opponents to development say and instead look for an underlying truth. “Responding to the perceived concerns of residents, instead of the actual reasons for opposition, can waste an incredible amount of time, effort and expense,” he said. “And ultimately doom a truly good project.”

Developers are going to have to look far and deep for the truth and for strategies to overcome objection. Because Americans are strenuously oppositional. Other key findings of the 2007 Saint Index include: One in three Americans answered “none” when asked what type of new development they’d like to see in their communities, and one in three also answered “none” when asked what national retailer they’d most like to see in their communities.

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Wal-Mart to sell earth-friendly CDs

BY CSA STAFF

SANTA MONICA, Calif. As part of Wal-Mart’s “Earth Month” the company is selling more than 20 Universal Music Group titles that come with special earth-friendly inserts. The inserts are made with special seed paper and, according to the companies, can actually bloom into wildflowers.

The inserts, in addition to being good for the environment, also offer consumers three free digital downloads from Universal Music. Universal also said that a number of its new CDs will be packaged in third-party certified, renewable recycled board and recyclable paper.

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ODP urges rejection of Levan nominees

BY CSA STAFF

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. Office Depot is continuing to urge its shareholders to reject dissident nominees and elect the company’s nominees to its board of directors at its annual shareholders meeting this April.

In a proxy statement sent to investors, Office Depot said that Alan Levan’s proposed nominees would do little to help improve shareholder value. According to the statement, Levan’s company, Levitt Corp. has seen its share price fall about 93% over the past three years and that its subsidiary, Levitt and Sons, is in bankruptcy. Office Depot also noted that BankAtlantic, of which Levan is chairman and ceo and one of his nominees, is president of real estate, construction and development, share price has dropped approximately 75% over the past three years.

Office Depot also cited news reports that commented on Levan’s failing business ventures, as well as others that said that his nominees are not qualified to serve on Office Depot’s board of directors.

The company pointed out nominee Mark Begelman’s experience with Mars Music, a company he founded in 1997 that went bankrupt in 2002. According to Office Depot, many news reports attributed this failure to a flawed business strategy.

According to Office Depot, when Levan’s other nominee, Martin Hanaka served as chairman of Sports Authority from 1998 to 2003, the company saw its price fall by about 13%.

Office Depot stressed that its directors best understand the company and are well-suited to help the company grow.

“We strongly believe that removing two of the most experienced retailing executives from our board, including our current ceo who is driving the implementation of our strategic turnaround plan, would be highly disruptive, could delay the implementation of internal and external initiatives and could damage prospects for a successful turnaround,” Office Depot said in the proxy statement.

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