How Wal-Mart gets its way in the KC area
The Kansas City Star
Some people in the Kansas City area are not fans of Wal-Mart.
Dozens of Lee’s Summit residents are expected to show up at a City Council meeting Thursday night to protest a proposed new Wal-Mart Supercenter. They’re worried it will decrease property values, boost traffic and bring in crime.
In south Kansas City hundreds of Waldo neighborhood residents oppose Wal-Mart’s planned Neighborhood Market grocery on the site of the vacant Bingham Middle School. They’re concerned about traffic and placing a store so close to houses.
And in Raytown residents fear that Wal-Mart plans to build a Neighborhood Market grocery at 62nd Street and Blue Ridge Boulevard. The store’s potential negative impact on small businesses is a big concern.
But keep this in mind, too.
Many people in the Kansas City area really like Wal-Mart.
Mission Mayor Laura McConwell and other city officials just wound up their successful bid to woo Wal-Mart to anchor the taxpayer-subsidized Mission Gateway project.
Next door in Roeland Park, Mayor Adrienne Foster was hoping she could keep her city’s Wal-Mart open, thus retaining the $500,000 or more in sales taxes it has provided annually for city services. But it will close now.
Kansas City officials put together a taxpayer-subsidized redevelopment in the mid-2000s to lure Wal-Mart to anchor a new shopping district where the Blue Ridge Mall once stood.
Summed up, feelings run deeply in this region about Wal-Mart.
Christine Bushyhead, a former Lee’s Summit City Council member, is the development lawyer who supports a new Wal-Mart in her city. She says it will be extremely “green,” offering everything from parking for bicycles to energy efficient lighting. Unlike many Wal-Mart deals, this one won’t get a public subsidy, she said, and thus will provide up to $1.5 million a year in tax revenues for the city, school district and other taxing jurisdictions.
Small business owner Melissa Saubers speaks for critics as she fights Wal-Mart’s proposed market in Waldo. Regarding recent concessions Wal-Mart has pledged — such as being open 18 hours a day rather than 24 hours — Saubers doesn’t trust any such pact. “Wal-Mart has a reputation for doing whatever they want,” she says.
I would add this qualification: Wal-Mart often gets what it wants because elected officials give in to them.
Time and time again, many cities on both sides of the state line have aggressively chased Wal-Mart to open a grocery or big box store. Wal-Mart often winds up in city-approved tax increment financing districts, with taxpayers paying for roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure needed to help the nation’s largest retailer come to a site.
Public officials should be much stricter with these incentives, not just for Wal-Mart but for all businesses that have their hands out.
In response, each city usually claims this corporate welfare is needed to compete with other cities to attract retail, a sad commentary on today’s business practices.
In addition, Wal-Mart and other businesses have saddled cities with real estate eyesores. It happened when the Wal-Mart opened in the publicly subsidized Blue Ridge Crossing — and the Wal-Mart near Bannister Mall immediately shuttered. It occurred when a Wal-Mart-owned Sam’s Club in Kansas City closed — and a new one opened a few miles away in an Independence TIF project.
City officials could — but almost never do — require Wal-Mart and other developers to have plans for their old buildings when they go dark. Demolition is one option that cities should put in the deals, especially when new projects are opening with the help of taxpayer assistance.
Based on past results, there’s a good chance Wal-Mart will be allowed to open new stores in Lee’s Summit, Kansas City’s Waldo area and Raytown. If that happens, elected officials made those results possible.
Wal-Mart’s critics will place blame for those actions — but the store’s fans will bless them.
To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or email email@example.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com and appears on “Ruckus” at 7 p.m. Thursday on KCPT. Twitter: @YaelTAbouhalkah