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2003-04-26
Baxter, MN. Would Paul Bunyan shop at a Wal-Mart Supercenter?

Residents in "north woods" Minnesota are sharpening their axes against the spreading sprawl along Route 371, which cuts through the heart of the Baxter/Brainerd, Minnesota region. A group called The Brainerd Lakes Coalition for Responsible Development believes a proposed Wal-Mart superstore is a giant-sized mistake. This is the home of folklore lumberjack Paul Bunyan, and his blue ox, Babe. Along Route 371 you can already find many chainstore logos, like Home Depot, Best Buy, Menards, Target, etc. Now Wal-Mart, which already has a discount store in Baxter, wants to build a 207,000 s.f. superstore on the southern edge of town, after being in its current location only 12 years, with nearly 15 years left on its lease agreement. Wal-Mart would turn their existing building into another "dark store" for Minnesota, adding to the list of 5 empty stores already in this state. This week, more than 300 area residents came to hear Sprawl-Buster Al Norman describe the reasons the City Council could use to cut down the project. Even though the land is commercially zoned, the city's traffic corridor plan calls for a very different kind of "sustainable development" that preserves the area as the gateway to the north woods. The scale and intensity of this project is simply incompatible with the land use and economic goals of the community. The parcel Wal-Mart covets is 34 acres of woodland, and Central Lakes Properties, the developer, will clear-cut the land to make way for the 15,500 cars per day that will enter their 1,200 car parking lot. In the peak hour, 3 cars per second will drive into Wal-Mart. Phase two of the plan calls for an unidentified 80,000 s.f. box plus a 5,000 s.f. restaurant. Wal-Mart also wants to put a gas station in the Mississippi river watershed as well. In a related symbolic story, the Paul Bunyan Amusement Park is closing down this fall, after more than 5 decades in Baster, to make way for a Kohl's discount store. This means the giant statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox have to move. The community of nearby Pequot Lakes is already seeking to move the pair out of Baxter, which prompted me to suggest to Baxter residents they should "Save the Ox, Dump the Box." The Mayor of Pequot Lakes wants this cultural icon in her town, and told the Brainerd Distpatch: "Baxter is building all the time...We want to keep (Pequot) this small town atmosphere. People say they know progress is coming, but they want to keep that small-town atmosphere." The Baxter Wal-Mart is now in an Environmental Assessment Worksheet period, with public commments on the plan due by mid May. The Planning Board is expected to review the plan on May 22nd., and the City Council could decide on the superstore in early June. There are 4 grocery stores within 2 miles of the supercenter proposal, and 7 gas stations, making public need for this project non-existent -- like the store should be.

What you can do: The Brainerd Daily Dispatch has produced an excellent five part series about the implications of Wal-Mart supercenters on small towns in Minnesota (see www.brainerddisptach.com). The newspaper quotes Professor Ken Stone of Iowa State University as saying: "I would guess in the case of Brainerd, if a supercenter does come in, at least one of the grocery stores would close in very short order." The owner of a grocery store in Hibbing, MN is quoted as saying: "It's had a huge impact. We've lost a lot of business." All the manager at Super One in Hibbing could say is: "We've kept our doors open." For local contacts in Baxter, contact info@sprawl-busters.com.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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