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2008-06-05
Fontana, CA. Wal-Mart Walks Out On Its Promenade Project, #68 Cancelled Or Delayed

After four years of controversy, Wal-Mart had decided to walk on its project in Fontana, California, known as The Promenade. On December 27, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Mayor of Fontana said that Wal-Mart's proposed site for a second supercenter in the city is "insane." Wal-Mart offered a plan for the congested south end of the city at Sierra and Slover avenues, an intersection where residents say traffic already is unbearable. Wal-Mart's plans called for a huge, 235,000 s.f. supercenter. In 2005, Wal-Mart proposed a north end supercenter for the Fontana Promenade, a shopping area near the corner of Sierra and South Highland avenues south of the 210 Freeway. The first Wal-Mart project had not been approved, but the retailer proposed a second superstore. The area Wal-Mart chose for a second store is basically in an industrial area. Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi told the Daily Bulletin newspaper that the city's design guidelines at Sierra and Slover do not allow a big-box retailer on the corner. "The vision for that was hotels and smaller development. It was definitely not a super Wal-Mart," the Mayor said. The Mayor noted that the city would have sold the land it owned at this location to Wal-Mart if it had wanted a big store there. "This is not an adequate site in my opinion for super Wal-Mart," the Mayor explained. Instead, the Mayor suggested that Wal-Mart look further north for a site. "To put them south of the 10 (Freeway) in the midst of traffic congestion already is insane," the Mayor told the newspaper. The city is already wrangling with Wal-Mart over their first site, at the Fontana Promenade, and want the company to find another location for their first proposal. Homeowners on the south end of the city have complained about the difficult traffic situation for years. The city approved a Home Depot for that area, and residents say that project really snarled the traffic pattern. On March 21, 2008, we updated the Fontana story with the news that the City Council had voted 3-2 to approve a "master-planned" community of homes, retail stores, restaurants and entertainment on 125 acres of land near the freeway. The so-called "Fontana Promenade" includes roughly 24 acres of land on its northern edge that has been owned by Wal-Mart since the end of 2004 -- after plans for the Promenade were announced. Wal-Mart already has a 125,000 s.f. store in Fontana a short distance away. It took the City Council more than 3 hours of debate to pass the plan -- but the debate over the Promenade, and Wal-Mart's role in it -- has been going on for four years now. The City Council, in narrowly approving the plan, had to change the land's zoning, and accept an environmental study as done. Although this vote has been taken, the major controversy has just begun. City officials say the Promenade was meant to be pedestrian-oriented, with smaller stores, a movie theater -- a project meant to be human in scale, and encouraging of strolling, and street activity. Just the opposite, in other words, of what a big box store brings. The plan that was approved by the Council also has a provision that limits the size of any retail building to 75,000 s.f. Wal-Mart's superstore is twice that size: 150,000 s.f. It actually started off at 235,000 s.f., but under pressure from the city, the company came in with its "smaller" version -- still three times the size of a football field. The building would have a "Tuscan theme," according to Wal-Mart. Right after the vote, Wal-Mart told the Press-Enterprise newspaper that they were not happy with the Council's plan, and played the legal card. "We're still evaluating what we're going to do, but as property owners, we're certainly going to enforce our rights," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. The retailer had been trying to get the city to delay a vote so Wal-Mart could make more concessions. The company already dropped their drive-through pharmacy, cut back the number of loading docks, moved the store further away on the site from a nearby Middle School -- but size was still the sticking point. "We made a number of concessions to show that we're willing to collaborate with the city, to show the city that we're flexible," Wal-Mart explained. But they weren't flexible enough, according to Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi. Nine days after the City Council's vote, the Mayor wrote an open letter to the community in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, responding to charges from Wal-Mart that the Mayor would not meet with them to discuss the Promenade. "I'm a pretty unreasonable person. Pigheaded, some might even say. But what the latest spokesperson for Wal-Mart failed to share was that I informed him I don't meet with companies threatening litigation against the city. And, if I'm not mistaken, [Wal-Mart] has been quoted in local newspapers as saying the company will enforce its property rights. Your company's representative at all City Council meetings was not an architect or a professional planner, it was your attorney. So forgive me if my litigation detector isn't pegged with Wal-Mart not getting its way in the Promenade." The Mayor says he has met with Wal-Mart at least 5 times, "imploring your company to work with our community and council to develop where it makes sense to our community and to Wal-Mart. You purchased the Promenade property after we had already initiated the Specific Plan process and after we had already begun talking about a walkable, mixed-use development. Come to think of it, you also purchased your site in south Fontana against the advice and opinions of city officials, after a Specific Plan for the area had already been completed. Am I seeing a trend here? Does the $200 billion gorilla simply march into every jungle and get its way?" Wal-Mart had asked the city to delay the Promenade project so it could return with a "dramatic proposal that would fit in with the vision of the City Council," Mayor Nuaimi wrote. "And after granting the continuance, you bring forth a proposal that is twice the size of the maximum building size allowed in the specific plan, with a sea of 1,200-plus parking spaces in front of your 'downsized' super-duper, almost-larger-than-a-middle-school Super Wal-Mart. You then have the audacity to "present" 5,000 signed cards from residents stating that they want to save $2,500 on their groceries duh! I want to save $2,500 on my groceries. But I'm not willing to sell the vision of this community down the road simply because Wal-Mart isn't willing to move to another viable site." The Mayor then turned to what he says is the "really offensive" deal Wal-Mart offered. "There are representatives of Wal-Mart implying that if the city accepts the store in the south Fontana location, then the company will move the store in the north. Sounds a lot like extortion to me, and I'm not willing to sacrifice the quality of life of my residents in the southern end of town to realize the vision in the north." The Mayor ended his letter with some direct advice to Wal-Mart: "Read the Specific Plans for the Promenade and the Empire Center projects. Take a gorilla-size Q-tip from aisle 55, clean out your ears, and re-watch the numerous council meetings and State of the City addresses where the vision for Fontana has been presented. And please stop the push-polling and threatening of political activism. Clearly, you didn't do your homework when you decided to land in this jungle. We've dealt with beasts far more menacing than you in the past." After all this ugly history, Wal-Mart created some headlines of its own this week when it announced that it was withdrawing its application in Fontana for the north end of the city. That makes the 68th superstore project that Wal-Mart has either cancelled or delayed since its annual meeting on June 2, 2007, when it first announced a cut back in growth plans. "We decided to withdraw the application on the Fontana Promenade site, and faxed a letter," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "The decision to withdraw the application in Fontana is a direct result of our October 2007 announcement that we would be moderating the growth of future stores." Wal-Mart said it is focusing on "expansions and relocations of existing stores." One city council member responded to the pullout by suggesting that nothing will happen with the 24 acres anytime soon. "If Wal-Mart can't make the economics work right now, then I doubt anyone else can," the councilor said. "So I don't think we're going to see anything pop out of the ground right now."

What you can do: The collapse of the Promenade project means that Fontana still has a 125,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store on Foothill Boulevard, in the city's central core. That store was opened in 1992. Wal-Mart has not yet announced what it will do with the Promenade land, which it bought in 2004. The retailer also still owns land on the south end of the city. But do not fret for the residents of Fontana who are addicted to Wal-Mart. In addition to the Wal-Mart discount store on Foothill Boulevard in Fontana, there are no less than 10 other Wal-Mart discount stores within 15 miles of Fontana. None of these 11 Wal-Marts are supercenters, so all these stores are marked for extinction by Wal-Mart, which has shut down more than 1,000 discount stores over the past 15 years. These supercenters are being built for Wall Street, not for shoppers on Main Street. The current Fontana Wal-Mart discount store is still open for business -- although it would likely close if these superstores were built. Readers are urged to email Mayor Mark Nuaimi at mnuaimi @ fontana.org with this message: "Mr. Mayor, Thank you so much for standing up to the Wal-Mart Gorilla. You are correct, that the Vision plan for your city does not include a big box store in either of the areas Wal-Mart covets. It is not your fault that they can't read the specific plan for these sites. Now that Wal-Mart has left you at the altar, it's a good time for your city to pass a city-wide ordinance limiting the size of retail stores to 50,000 s.f. Make retailers fit Fontana, not the reverse. Your size limit is legal, responsible, and in harmony with the land use goals for Fontana. We need more Mayors like you to think of all residents in their town when they make land use decisions -- not just Wal-Mart shoppers."










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

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