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2008-06-30
Blair, NB. Wal-Mart Confident Of Approval For Superstore

Blair, Nebraska, a city with roughly 8,000 people, is located in eastern Nebraska on the Missouri River, about twenty minutes north of metropolitan Omaha. Blair sits at the cross roads of Highway 30, Highway 75 and Highway 91. If the good citizens of Blair want to buy cheap, Chinese imports, they have 5 Wal-Mart supercenters within 25 miles of where they live -- four of them in Omaha. This allows residents of Blair to keep their small town lifestyle, and drive into Omaha for big town shopping. According to Blair Mayor James Realph, "Blair understands exactly who we are. We are grounded in traditional community value...With special focus on our enviable quality of life." Wal-Mart also envies the value of the market in Blair -- even though this small morsel is surrounded by big box stores. According to the Midlands News Service, 65 acres of open fields across from the local Chrysler dealer has displayed a sign for at least a year promoting the arrival of one of the largest retail projects in this tiny city's history: The Hayden Place development. On July 1st, the City Planning Commission will decide whether to increase the number of lots at Hayden Place from 8 to 10. The city explains that this is key to attracting a Wal-Mart supercenter to the site. The city's Assistant City Administrator has been playing coy with the press. "I have not been told that if this replat gets approved, then Wal-Mart will announce," he told Midland News. "The city has not been working with any specific retail company, but the developer has." But Wal-Mart was more forthcoming: a spokesman admitted that the giant retailer expects to announce plans to break ground within the next several weeks. Given the fact that the Planning Commission has not even met yet, the Wal-Mart spokesman either has a 'done deal' on this hands, or has been promised success by the Mayor. Last year, the Blair supercenter was delayed when Wal-Mart delayed or cancelled more than 70 superstore projects. "I think Blair is looking pretty good," a Wal-Mart spokesman now says. "It's just a great town, and I think it's pretty optimistic right now that it's a site that we would like to go forward (with) fairly quickly." Wal-Mart sees its trade area as including Blair, Fort Calhoun and Arlington, Nebraska. But Arlington has only 1,200 residents, and Fort Calhoun has less than 1,000. The three towns combined have just over 10,000 people -- about one-fifth of what it takes to support a Wal-Mart supercenter. The Blair supercenter size was not revealed, but Midland News said it would be "at least 100,000 s.f." The project is being fronted by a local developer, Mary Berg. "We feel the interest in Hayden Place will continue to be very high with the increasing needs for goods and services in Blair," Berg told Midland News. In addition to the Wal-Mart, the development will have a restaurant, a coffeehouse, a specialty foods store, banks, a dry cleaner, salons and health care businesses. The developer also wants to build 150 single family homes and apartments on land abutting the south of Hayden Place, so homeowners can have an unobstructed view of where they will shop. She also has plans for a hotel. City officials are hoping that the new supercenter will stop local residents from going to Omaha to shop. "To see more retail development in our town is a good thing," the Assistant Administrator said. "It's been too easy for people to hop in their car and to drive to Omaha, so having more local retail with these higher gas prices, it's definitely positive."

What you can do: On the other hand, people who chose to live in Blair because of its small town quality of life, uncongested streets and low crime, may feel that this out-of-scale retail project is a big shove into suburbanization. People who shop in nearby Omaha can leave behind the big city problems. This is the trade off of living in a rural community. The aim is not to create suburban sprawl, but to protect your identity as a desirable place to live -- not just a shopping mecca. "An unmistakable energy greets you the minute you enter our community of 8,000 people," says Mayor Realph. "We boast a broad and diversified economic base that creates opportunity and growth in virtually every corner of our city." But residents worry that sprawl will occupy every corner of the city. The other retail projects on tap for the city are less than one-tenth that of the Wal-Mart alone. Big suburban boxes threaten the "enviable quality of life" that the Mayor brags about. Readers are urged to email Mayor Realph at jrealph@ci.blair.ne.us with the following message: "Dear Mayor Realph, Your small city, plus Arlington and Fort Calhoun don't have enough rooftops to justify a Wal-Mart supercenter. They may tell you it's a 'small' one -- but it's one of the biggest buildings in the city. Your community has a rich historic legacy, and a downtown shopping center with scenic and historic value. It makes little sense to change your plats to accommodate Wal-Mart. There are 4,000 Wal-Mart stores in America, but only 1 Blair. Which would you rather protect? Your zoning code needs a cap on the size of retail buildings; a demolition bond to protect you if Wal-Mart abandons this store in the future; and a ban on overnight hours to prevent a serious crime problem. You can't buy small town quality of life at a Wal-Mart -- but once they take it from you, they can't sell it back at any price. I urge you to vote against increasing the number of lots at the Hayden Place. Make this project fit into your vision of Blair, not the other way around."










 
 
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