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2006-02-28
Spooner, WI. Wal-Mart Finally Revealed, Citizens Unhappy With Secrecy

"Bad news on the horizon," a resident of Spooner, Wisconsin writes this week. "The Mayor admits Wal-Mart has been presented as a concept, but still no final word. We don't know what can be done to stop this 150,000 sq ft store. We are a small tourist town, very seasonal business. The owner of a local grocery store has concerns, and has set the stage for layoffs. Spooner is a town with 2,600 people. We have supercenters 20 miles north and south, we have two grocery stores , two hardware stores, Dollar Store, Pamida discount store, many downtown stores. The County has agreed to sale of land for $901,000 in secret deal." According to the city's local newspaper, the Spooner Advocate, Mayor Mayor Louie Villella admitted late last week that a developer, Polacheck, met in City Hall with city and county officials to present a Wal-Mart plan for 35 acres of Washburn county land near Highway 53 inside city limits. This same developer dumped a Wal-Mart supercenter in Rice Lake, and is also trying to sell the "dark store" the retailer left behind when it relocated. This developer is also trying to build a large retail store in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. According to the Advocate, last November, the County Board of Supervisors sold 35 acres of county land for $901,000 to allow the construction of a 150,000 s.f. retailer. Under the deal, the developer has two years to start construction, before it has to start paying a fine. In the Rice Lake deal, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $1.6 million to extend water and sewer lines to the site, but the city will have to pay for all maintenance costs for that extension. Wal-Mart also agreed to pay Rice Lake $18,700 annually in property taxes if their "old" store is not rented up within one year's time. Wal-Mart also agreed to pay Rice Lake $100,000 a year for five years if the store remains unoccupied. In Spooner, local residents have complained about the infrastructure costs Wal-Mart will bring to the city, and the negative impact on other busineses in the city. "There's a lot of things happen when you get a large retailer coming in," one resident told the Advocate. "You get a lot of income coming off from the local retailers and stores. If it draws even 10%, that is the profit a lot of these smaller retailers operate on. That is one thing that is sad. You will see the town dry up. The money does not only stay in the community; it does not stay in the country," he said.
Residents noted that jobs at big box stores would be low-paying and would not significantly increase the tax base because most of the workers could not afford to own a home on their salary. When the Mayor was asked if it was usual for city officials to go so long without knowing who the retailer was going to be, the Mayor responded, "nothing like this has ever happened in Spooner before."

The Mayor and his staff have no idea what is about to hit them. They have visions of jobs and property taxes in their minds, but no done no analysis of the true public costs of accepting a superstore proposal. Behind Wal-Mart will come more big box stores -- all in a town with less than 3,000 people. Obviously this Wal-Mart is for a larger trade area, and is part of the saturation strategy: open a supercenter, close a discount store, just as they did in Rice Lake. At least officials in Rice Lake were sharp enough to negotiate payment from Wal-Mart if their "old" store isn't occupied. Such developer's agreements have become an essential part of any deal these days with Wal-Mart. The state of Wisconsin currently has 8 dead Wal-Mart's on its hands, for a total of 644,405 s.f. of dark stores -- and that's not counting Rice Lake. Every town with a discount store being abandoned should require Wal-Mart to pay it $100,000 a year if it remains empty for retail purposes for 12 consecutive months.


What you can do: The Mayor and his staff have no idea what is about to happen in Spooner. They have visions of jobs and property taxes in their minds, but have done no analysis of the true public costs of accepting a superstore proposal. Behind Wal-Mart will come more big box stores -- all in a town with less than 3,000 people. A 150,000 s.f. Wal-Mart will generate $75 million in sales, and roughly 60% of that can be expected to come from existing businesses, or a $45 million transfer of sales. Obviously this Wal-Mart is for a larger trade area, and is part of the saturation strategy: open a supercenter, close a discount store, just as they did in Rice Lake. At least officials in Rice Lake were sharp enough to negotiate payment from Wal-Mart if their "old" store isn't occupied. Such developer's agreements have become an essential part of any deal these days with Wal-Mart. The state of Wisconsin currently has 8 dead Wal-Mart's on its hands, for a total of 644,405 s.f. of dark stores -- and that's not counting Rice Lake. Every town with a discount store being abandoned should require Wal-Mart to pay it $100,000 a year if it remains empty for retail purposes for 12 consecutive months. If residents don't respond quickly in organized opposition, and get a land use lawyer to represent them, Wal-Mart will soon be dishing it out in Spooner.











 
 
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