Waiting on Wal-Mart

Brian Brown, ReporterMark your calendars for Feb. 11. This is the day a public hearing will be held on Bentonville, Ark-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s plans to bring a fifth Neighborhood Market to town.

Wal-Mart is seeking Springfield City Council approval on a plan to rezone about 6 acres at 444 W. Grand St. and 427, 433, 441, 501, 505, 509 and 515 W. Normal St. to a general retail district with a conditional overlay district from residential high density and residential single family. On Jan. 24, the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission recommended council’s approval with its 5-2 vote.

The issue is a hot topic around the proverbial water cooler, in part, because Price Cutter President and CEO Erick Taylor is threatening to close at least one store – the downtown Bistro Market – and it may also close its stores at Campbell Avenue and Sunshine Street and Grand Street and Kansas Expressway, according to Springfield News-Leader reporting.

Beyond the effect on a locally owned business and those it employs, there are the neighbors. Often big projects in the city draw the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) crowd, and it is understandable. Recently, about 20 neighbors visited City Hall to voice opposition to a planned Hy-Vee grocery store on East Sunshine Street, citing impacts to property values and area water-drainage problems.

Council ultimately sided with the developers, and the governing body approved a rezoning measure with a 7-1 vote.

Based on reports of Wal-Mart’s two trips through P&Z on plans for the center-city store, I’m expecting an overflow crowd to turn out for the Feb. 11 council meeting.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just Hy-Vee; it’s Wal-Mart. People have a lot of strong feelings, rightly or wrongly, about the impact the largest retailer in the world has on communities. In fact, Councilman Scott Bailes has voiced his concerns about the drain of jobs he feels can accompany each new Walmart store.

Generally speaking, however, it is hard to know in which direction council members might be leaning.

As someone who has followed council for more than two years at Springfield Business Journal, I’ve enjoyed reporting on several complex and contentious issues such as the smoking ban and proposed changes to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This issue has that same sort of feeling to it. I can’t wait to see what happens.

1 Response to “Waiting on Wal-Mart”

  1. 1 James Clary-Director of Culinary Pyramid Foods February 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with your assessment that this upcoming council meeting will be one for the ages, so to speak! As you know, Price Cutter CEO, Erick Taylor is my boss. He is a man I have come respect, admire, and even emulate in my business dealings. He has been accused of everything from being anti-competition to sour grapes. From my, admittedly subjective, view, he is none of those things. Having been “in the loop” concerning the Bistro Market, I can verify Erick’s assertion that we felt having a strong presence in Downtown was much more important than “profitability”, which most businesses’ use to guide their expansions. That’s not to say we haven’t tried to make the Bistro Market profitable. The efforts in that vein are continuous and ongoing, but we ARE local. We understand the importance of being a “part of the community”. I live downtown. I do ALL of my shopping at the Bistro Market. The local flavor, staff, and ambiance of the store are unparalleled in my, admittedly, jaded opinion. I LOVE shopping there! I too, can’t wait to see what happens on the 11th. I am looking forward to sharing MY story of the effects on a smaller, locally owned, business when large chain operations are allowed to open and operate without input from City Council and the community at large.

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