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2008-04-13
Mentor, OH. City Officials Make Secret Deal with Wal-Mart in Las Vegas.

What were elected officials from Mentor, Ohio doing with Wal-Mart in Las Vegas? And why did the city end up promoting a dead Wal-Mart store? These are some of the questions that residents in Mentor should be asking, now that details of Wal-Mart's back room deal have been revealed. There are 8 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Mentor, Ohio. The city itself already has a Wal-Mart discount store on Mentor Avenue. But there's also a Wal-Mart supercenter in Chardon, Ohio only 8 miles away, plus three other supercenters within a short drive. There are approximately 52,000 people living in Mentor. The city boasts of its "incomparable lifestyle" and says "bargain hunters will love shopping in the sixth largest retail center in the state of Ohio!" The city estimates that it has "nearly 600 retail businesses, and a "low 6.25% sales tax" that makes Mentor a "popular destination for shoppers." Since 1961, the city has been home to the Great Lakes Mall, which, when first built, was the largest indoor shopping mall in the country. It holds 1.5 million square feet of retail space over 125 acres of land. Even with all this retail space, city officials in Mentor want more. Last week, city officials announced that they are trading up on Wal-Marts. The existing Wal-Mart discount store will be closed, and a new supercenter will open at a mall called The Shoppes of Diamond Center. "It was confirmed by United Commercial Property Group," city Councilman Ray Kirchner told the News-Herald. "Construction should start sometime next year." The announcement came as no surprise, since United Commercial announced in 2007 that they were negotiating a 185,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter deal at Diamond Center. Over the past year, the city and the developer said they were just waiting for Wal-Mart to make a decision. But another city councilman admitted that city officials were doing more than waiting. Councilor Scott Marn revealed that Wal-Mart had a private meeting with city officials last May at the International Shopping Center Conference in Las Vegas. While residents in Mentor were picking up the cost of this Las Vegas trip, city employees were wooing Wal-Mart in Vegas. Marn admitted that members of the city council were discussing an actual agreement with Wal-Mart at that private session. "When we met at the ISCS conference we discussed the agreement," Marn told the newswpaper. "I'm glad it finally went through." The city has also admitted that the city's current Wal-Mart store will shut down, but they suggest the closure won't "happen real soon." According to councilor Kirchner, "It might not be until 2010." Mentor city manager John Konrad told the News-Herald, "We've had an understanding with Wal-Mart for a long time, so we are certainly glad it's going to move forward. It's an expansion of that commercial area, and that's the direction the city is going. It will be nice to have a big new Wal-Mart."

What you can do: It's not clear at this point if the Wal-Mart supercenter will have to go through any planning or zoning hearings in Mentor. But any hope of a fair hearing is gone. As far as city officials are concerned, this whole deal was privately negotiated between the city, the developer, and Wal-Mart. The only people they left out of the discussions were the residents and taxpayers of Mentor. Residents might have wondered what kind of a trade led to the closure of the existing Wal-Mart, and if the city ever considered requiring the retailer to post a demolition bond in case their "old" store sits empty and has to be torn down? The public process was neatly circumvented in Mentor. In their unabashed enthusiasm to add another grocery store to Mentor, city officials appear to have forgotten the existing merchant base in the city, and the fact that many residents might not approve of a store almost four times the size of a football field. Readers are urged to email Mentor's Mayor, Robert M. Shiner, and the other six members of the city council at council@cityofmentor.com with the following message:
"Mayor Shiner and City Council, Mentor brags about having the sixth largest retail sales volume in Ohio. But you are making a super mistake by thinking that adding a Wal-Mart supercenter to the Diamond Center is going to add value to your local economy. Because you already have a Wal-Mart discount store, most of the jobs and sale revenues from the supercenter are already at that discount store. The only new component is a grocery store. No doubt many of the sales at a Mentor supercenter will be captured from sales at the supercenter in Chardon 8 miles away. This is not economic development. Even more troubling than the lack of economic value of this superstore swap, is the way in which the city council secretly met with Wal-Mart, negotiated details in Las Vegas, and basically left your taxpayers in the dark. Why wasn't this "agreement" made public? Why didn't you involve local residents before signing off on the deal? What promises were made to the United Commercial Property Group? Because the city council made this a "done deal" even before it was ever presented to the public, can your residents and small businesses in the city be blamed for thinking the big corporations get sweetheart deals made in private, while they get no special treatment? This superstore will not only cannibalize the Chardon Wal-Mart -- it will take sales from existing grocery stores in Mentor. The Planning and Zoning Boards are left with the understanding that the city council has already reached an agreement in Las Vegas that affects jobs and businesses in Mentor, but shut the door on any fair, and balanced discussion of the project back home. The Council has given this project an unfair advantage, and decided the land use issues before the public even knew about it. And when the Wal-Mart discount store is shut down and turns into an eyesore, is the city going to ask taxpayers to tear down the store? There should be no secret deals in Mentor. Let Wal-Mart play the game by the same rules that small businesses have to live by. This project was born in Las Vegas -- and you have people in Mentor, no doubt, who will find this private deal a bad gamble for Mentor. Your city manager may think its "nice" to have a "big, new Wal-Mart," but environmentally its just more sprawl in Mentor for dubious economic gains."










 
 
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