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2007-10-15
St. Peters, MO. Wal-Mart Contract Glitch Stops At Pearly Gates

There are 11 Wal-Mart's within 20 miles of St. Peters, Missouri. The supercenter in Wood River, Illinois is only 5 miles away -- and St. Peters already has a Wal-Mart discount store on Jungerman Road. This 22 square mile community of roughly 58,000 people, located 30 miles west of St. Louis, has paid its dues to sprawl -- yet Wal-Mart wants a bigger share of the market. But according to the Wentzville Journal, Wal-Mart's supercenter plans for St. Peters may never reach the Pearly Gates. Mayor Len Pagano told the newspaper several days ago, "I have not been told anything officially, but it is my understanding that Wal-Mart (officials) are reviewing their expansion strategy." The 203,710 s.f. supercenter proposal on 37.5 acres of land has apparently gotten snagged over contract issues. "We remain very interested in the site and look forward to coming to St. Peters with a new store. However, with this particular site there were some issues with the contract and the deal," a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the Journal. "We unfortunately fell out of contract and are working at this time to again see what we can do." The land is owned by a company called Executive Realty, and the developer is THF Realty. The landowner and the developer could not come to terms, leaving Wal-Mart caught in the middle. THF is the same company that pulled its Wal-Mart plans from North St. Louis in 2002, that bulldozed an entire neighborhood of 200 homes for a Wal-Mart in Maplewood, Missouri in 2002, that threatened homeowners with eminent domain in Wheeling, West Virginia in 2003, and that was fined for violating the Clean Water Act by the EPA in 2007 in Columbia, Missouri. THF is owned by Stanley Kroenke, who married into the Walton family, and is one of the richest developers in America. Mayor Pagano thinks the Wal-Mart deadlock is due to the company's cutback in new store development, but Wal-Mart denied any connection to the slowdown and the St. Peters project. "This has actually nothing to do with the announcement we made in June on capital expenditures," Wal-Mart said. "It's been speculated everywhere when a deal doesn't go through that it's because of our announcement in June." Last January, several residents and small-businesses in St. Peters filed a lawsuit challenging the city's approval of a preliminary plat for the project, which also called for two small retail centers. A St. Charles County Circuit Judge dismissed that suit in May, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to comply with city ordinances by not filing a grievance with the city's Board of Adjustments before taking their case to court. In other words, their appeal was not yet "ripe" because they had not exhausted their local appeals first. The lawsuit charged that the project would cause traffic problems, hurt existing businesses and drive down wages. They also charged that a supercenter bigger than four football fields was not compatible with the city's Special District, which has stringent requirements for design and appearance. Attorney Fred Berger, representing the plaintiffs, said his clients are appealing the dismissal of that lawsuit, and that a second lawsuit was filed in September challenging the validity of a city ordinance involving zoning of the property. "It seems like it was very much a deal made in the back room," Attorney Berger told the Journal. "My clients feel that those decisions should be made in public. They are concerned that the laws have to be followed and no one's above the law."

What you can do: City officials defended their support for Wal-Mart -- even though there is no market need for another superstore -- by saying that they are just trying to make this mall location "an important retail center for our city." According to the city's planner, "What we were trying to do is provide a spectrum of shopping opportunities." But there is no economic advantage to adding another supercenter five miles from an existing supercenter. If the new supercenter is approved, the 'old' discount Wal-Mart in St. Peters will surely close. When you offset the loss of jobs and revenues from existing businesses in St. Peters -- especially grocery stores -- the net gain is negligible. Readers are urged to send an email to Mayor Len Pagano at LPagano@stpetersmo.net. Tell the Mayor, "St. Peters is already over-served by big box superstores. Protect what is unique about St. Peters, rather than copying the 11 Wal-Marts that encircle your city. If the THF project comes back for a permit, tell them "St. Peter's at the Gate, and you can't come in."










 
 
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