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2008-04-23
McAllen,TX. Dead Wal-Mart To Become Expensive Library

The taxpayers in McAllen, Texas probably regret the day that their Wal-Mart discount store shut down -- but not for the loss of cheap Chinese imports. The city today has two Wal-Mart supercenters: one on East Jackson Avenue, and the other on Nolana Avenue. But it's the former Wal-Mart Discount store on 23rd and Nolana that's become the controversy. When Wal-Mart abandoned the property to open up a supercenter nearby, someone at the city had the prophetic idea to recycle the empty Wal-Mart into a city library. If Wal-Mart didn't know how to recycle stores, the city of McAllen would teach them. In January 2007, city officials purchased the vacant Wal-Mart store, a 128,000-square-foot space on 15 acres of land, for $5 million. Texas has never had a shortage of "dark" Wal-Marts. The Lone Star state has led the nation in dead Wal-Mart stores. There are currently 20 dead Wal-Marts for sale or lease in Texas. But the one in McAllen was purchased for $5 million -- with the idea of turning it into a library. Along the way, the price tag for this library began to jump off the page -- and suddenly the old 40,000 s.f. library in the city started looking better. The architects handling the project came in recently with an estimated cost two-thirds more than the city had budgeted. "The goal is to have somebody walk by and think they didn't turn the Wal-Mart into a library," the Minneapolis-based architect told The Monitor newspaper. "The money they budgeted was not enough to meet that level of quality." The city originally hired two architectural firms to design a library that would cost $14.2 million, including an 8% architect's fee. Now the everyday low price of the Wal-Mart conversion has shot up to $23.3 million. The Deputy City Manager says officials are going over the new numbers. "We have not really studied the figures in detail," he admitted. "We're going to be doing that over the next couple weeks." City Commissioners were reportedly "shocked" at first by the new estimate, but Mayor Richard Cortez told The Monitor that he was going to stick with the architects new plans. "At the end of the day," Mayor Cortez explained, "you're only building a library once every so-many decades, and we want it to be the right one. That said, we also want to make sure we're getting value on the money we're spending." But the Mayor did admit that he was set back by the latest price tag. ""I was shocked, but I can't say that I'm totally surprised. Everything we thought we could pay 'x' number of dollars for last year is coming in substantially higher." Now the city's taxpayers will have to pony up another $9.1 million to bring new life to their dead Wal-Mart. The architects have a big job trying to disguise the big box. The huge 864 space parking lot has to be landscaped, and the buildings' unarticulated, windowless exterior has to be dramatically transformed.
The new library will be 3.2 times larger than the old one. No one expects McAllen taxpayers to read 3.2 times as many books as they used to, but what else was the city going to do with an empty store more than twice the size of a football field? Once this project is done, McAllen no doubt will have one of the biggest libraries -- even by Texas standards. If the city had had a demolition bond in place, they might have had some of the costs of razing the building, or acquiring it, at Wal-Mart expense. The city should have asked Wal-Mart to donate the building and land to the city. If they had written a developer's agreement at the outset, they could have included a clause that required any building left empty for more than 24 months to revert to the city, or be torn down. Either way, city taxpayers would have saved millions, instead of lining the pockets of the world's largest retailer. All the mistakes McAllen made along the way could fill a book -- and that book should be the first book given to the new Wal-Mart library building. Readers are encouraged to email Mayor Cortez at http://www.mcallen.net/officials/mayor.htm with the following message; "Mr.Mayor, Don't let any more big box stores leave their empty buildings in your city without getting them to pay for its demolition, or transfer the title to the city for free. Why don't you ask the Wal-Mart Foundation to give you the difference between your original library budget, and your new estimate? Wal-Mart should have donated their "old" store to McAllen, instead of taking $5 million from your taxpayers. That should have been part of a developer's agreement when they opened up their new superstore. Other towns have negotiated that the old store to be given to the community, or torn down at Wal-Mart's expense. You helped out Wal-Mart by approving their superstore, and then buying their dead store. Now ask Wal-Mart to make a generous donation to your new library."

What you can do: The new library will be 3.2 times larger than the old one. No one expects McAllen taxpayers to read 3.2 times as many books as they used to, but what else was the city going to do with an empty store more than twice the size of a football field? Once this project is done, McAllen no doubt will have one of the biggest libraries -- even by Texas standards. If the city had had a demolition bond in place, they might have had some of the costs of razing the building, or acquiring it, at Wal-Mart expense. The city should have asked Wal-Mart to donate the building and land to the city. If they had written a developer's agreement at the outset, they could have included a clause that required any building left empty for more than 24 months to revert to the city, or be torn down. Either way, city taxpayers would have saved millions, instead of lining the pockets of the world's largest retailer. All the mistakes McAllen made along the way could fill a book -- and that book should be the first book given to the new Wal-Mart library building. Readers are encouraged to email Mayor Cortez at http://www.mcallen.net/officials/mayor.htm with the following message; "Mr.Mayor, Don't let any more big box stores leave their empty buildings in your city without getting them to pay for its demolition, or transfer the title to the city for free. Why don't you ask the Wal-Mart Foundation to give you the difference between your original library budget, and your new estimate? Wal-Mart should have donated their "old" store to McAllen, instead of taking $5 million from your taxpayers. That should have been part of a developer's agreement when they opened up their new superstore. Other towns have negotiated that the old store to be given to the community, or torn down at Wal-Mart's expense. You helped out Wal-Mart by approving their superstore, and then buying their dead store. Now ask Wal-Mart to make a generous donation to your new library."










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

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