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2008-05-13
Bellevue, WI. Wal-Mart Pulls Out of 60th Community

On January 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the small community of Bellevue, Wisconsin had a big decision to make. This village of roughly 14,600 people just south of Green Bay, had a Wal-Mart supercenter thrown in its lap. The village, whose motto is "A Great Place To Grow," had to decide if growth means putting a Wal-Mart supercenter in its new business park. As it turns out less than four months later, the decision was not in their hands anyway. In February, local residents jammed into the Village board room to express their concern and dismay over the proposed Wal-Mart store. Every single resident who testified on the plan, opposed it. Some residents told Wal-Mart that instead of building a new superstore, they should go back and renovate their existing discount store on Main Street in Green Bay, which is roughly 3.5 miles from Bellevue. There are three Wal-Marts within 10 miles of Bellevue, Wisconsin, including two superstores in Green Bay and De Pere, Wisconsin. The Village Board held their meeting on February 13th, and voted unanimously to approve Wal-Mart's planned development district -- once again in the face of strong citizen opposition. Village President Craig Beyl abstained from the vote, because he works at a competing grocery store. One Village Trustee said the Wal-Mart decision had to be made on facts, not emotion. "We have to go by our ordinances, not on emotion," said Trustee Jill Bielinksi. "Public opinion is not reason enough to deny this. (Wal-Mart has) done what we've asked for over and above." And Trustee Dave Kaster was even more blunt: "To say we voted down Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart sucks, that works on the playground, but it doesn't work here." Three months after that statement, Wal-Mart decided that it would not work for them to locate in Bellevue. Perhaps the saturation of Wal-Marts in the area, and the relatively small population base, is what convinced Wal-Mart to make Bellevue the 60th community since last June that the company has either cancelled or delayed. The retailer's growth slowdown came abruptly on June 2, 2007, in an announcement at the Wal-Mart annual shareholders meeting. The 2008 meeting will take place far away from Bellevue, in Fayetteville, Arkansas on June 6, 2008 -- but it was that management decision last June that led to this week's abandonment of the Bellevue supercenter. According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Wal-Mart will not be coming to the village's business park. The announcement was made by the village's Adminstrator, Aaron Oppenheimer. Wal-Mart typically tells communities they are leaving that they are a great place to be, and they may come back. Such was the case this week in Bellevue. "The door's still open and they're still interested, but they've been putting on hold about 1,500 projects across the country," he said. "They're just taking a pause in their building to see what the economic situation is going to be like." The Bellevue project was supposed to open in 2010, but now the timeline has no end point. "There's nothing specific at this point," Oppenheimer said. Wal-Mart's sudden freeze of this project left Bellevue in the middle of preparatory plans. According to the newspaper, the village is planning to build three roundabouts in the business park area to accommodate the added traffic Wal-Mart would have brought. State taxpayers were putting up $700,000 in funding to improve the roads leading to Wal-Mart. The giant retailer had net income of $12.73 billion last year -- but still needs welfare from Wisconsin taxpayers for infrastructure costs. "Those (road) improvements will need to be made either way," Oppenheimer rationalized. "So, that funding should stay available to us if Wal-Mart does give us the go-ahead, then we'll go ahead with our improvements." Into this unreality a little light came creeping. The Gazette quoted the village Administrator as being more sober about the future of this project. "I think any economic development project could be canceled, there's always the possibility even if we didn't have this pause," he said. "Until you see that foundation going in, it could be canceled. But I think this is a prime location, and I think Wal-Mart is still very interested in it."

What you can do: Village President Craig Beyl told the Press-Gazette last January that Wal-Mart was going to be a tough decision for his small community. It appears that it was not a tough decision for Wal-Mart to depart. Bellevue gets no added value from this saturation of Wal-Mart supercenters. The retailer is not going to keep their discount store in Green Bay open with a supercenter less than four miles away. So all this proposal represents is Wal-Mart once again shutting down a discount store to open up a more profitable superstore. But because there already are two supercenters within minutes of this location, the Bellevue proposal is a missile aimed directly at existing grocery stores, and other retailers, like Target, in the area. Open one, and close one. That's the mantra at Wal-Mart -- even as they have moved to put dozens of their existing projects on hold across Wisconsin and the nation. It is hard to see how adding another supercenter to this mix helps Bellevue or Wal-Mart shareholders. Readers are urged to email Village Trustee Kevin Brennan at: brennan4bellevue@yahoo.com, with the following message: "Your village may be a great place to grow -- but not if you let Wal-Mart grow in your business park. The fact that Wal-Mart has left you at the altar is actually a blessing in disguise. What they sell, you already have at their two supercenters within 10 miles of this project. All this proposal would have done is close the Wal-Mart discount store on Main Street in Green Bay. What you would get is higher crime, increased traffic, and other empty storefronts. You are putting your economic future in the hands of an out-of-state company that arrives with its bags already packed. After all the work you went through to accommodate them -- in the end they dumped Bellevue. One of the main goals of your zoning code is 'to maintain the aesthetic appearances and scenic values of the Village; to prevent the overcrowding of land.' This project will have a dramatic impact on the aesthetic character of your village. I urge you to consider now putting a cap on the size of retail buildings, or voting to a six month moratorium on big box retail stores, so your village can live in peace with its residents once again, and plan for a future that you control -- not some out-of-state board of directors."










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

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