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2008-07-29
Miami, FL. The Waterfront Wal-Mart?

Does a Wal-Mart fit into a retail and residential complex designed to be elegant and pedestrian-centered? The world's largest seller of cheap underwear and Mickey Mouse lawn furniture is making some waves in Miami, Florida's downtown waterfront district. The owner of the city's largest newspaper is also the owner of the land Wal-Mart wants. The City Square project, which was billed as a upscale arts and retail venue, is now being peddled as the potential new home for a Wal-Mart. According to the Miami Herald -- whose parent company, The McClatchy Company, owns the parcel -- the retailer has not admitted its part of the deal. The California-based McClatchy Company bought the land from Knight-Ridder, Inc. as part of the deal involving the sale of the Miami Herald. Wal-Mart has not confirmed its interest in the project, but an architect's rendering of the project shows a Wal-Mart as part of the mix. '"At this time," a Wal-Mart spokesman said, "we do not have any agreements. We continue to explore all of our options." The retail giant would be located next to the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center, and nestled among pricey condos and upscale shops. Two years ago, a Target opened up in mid-town Miami, but this Wal-Mart project is likely to kick up more controversy -- if for no other reason than its incongruous location. City officials promoted City Square as a collection of sophisticated restaurants and upscale shops in a unique destination. A Wikipedia entry for City Square describes the project as a complex of "three residential towers, One Herald Plaza I, One Herald Plaza II, and City Square Tower. The One Herald Plaza towers are proposed as two twin towers, each rising 649 feet (198 meters), each with 64 floors. City Square Tower would slightly shorter, rising 640 feet (195 meters), with 62 floors. The entire complex is scheduled to be completed by 2010, and are a part of the recent Manhattanization wave that is taking place throughout Miami." But they haven't let Wal-Mart into Manhattan either. Miami Today reported two years ago this week that Miami city commissioners were considering a major use special permit for the City Square retail project, a five-story retail structure with 641,000 s.f. of space and 4,052 parking spaces. City Square's location behind a concert hall prompted Miami historian and Miami Planning Advisory Board member Arva Moore Parks to vote against the big-box retail project in July of 2006. "The location is inappropriate," Parks said. "It is also out of context with the neighborhood. It is going to be a very distracting building that just won't look good next to the arts center." Early drawings of the building showed a three-story electronic billboard on the building's outer walls. An aide for Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff told the Herald, "Visualize a Wal-Mart customer in his pickup truck and family of four driving past tuxedo-clad PAC center guests arriving simultaneously." A spokesman for the developer explained: "People coming to the performing arts center will have the opportunity to shop and eat and make their evening event something that's enjoyable." The developer said City Square will have a "timeless quality."

What you can do: Wal-Mart has not had an easy time breaking into the urban centers of America. The company has been rejected in Boston and New York, faced bitter battles in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and San Francisco. It is not clear yet what kind of store Wal-Mart envisions at the location: a superstore, a discount store, or a "smaller" Neighborhood Market. Whatever the format store, it will be located just one block from Miami bay, in the middle of a very expensive neighborhood. Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes the downtown area, described the project as "Wal-Mart on the waterfront." Sarnoff knows about big box stores close up. He helped organize a group of Miami residents to do battle with Home Depot's effort to locate a huge store in Coconut Grove. Sarnoff worked with the group The Grove First to stop Home Depot's plans. The home improvement warehouse eventually was forced to move inside the footprint of the dead Kmart it wanted to demolish. Sarnoff told the Herald his concern about the Wal-Mart plan has nothing to do with the cultural clash. "I've seen a lot of BMWs and Mercedes in the parking lot of Wal-Mart," he said. Instead, Sarnoff pointed out that the city's land use objective for the downtown area is to foster more pedestrian-friendly development -- not automobile-dependent concepts. Sarnoff also criticized the retailer for shifting American jobs to China. "If we don't want to outsource our jobs, we should do a better job of buying American," Sarnoff said. The Herald reporter covering the story defended Wal-Mart for giving "increased buying power (to) the working class." "In hard times," the reporter editorialized, "a trip to Wal-Mart can be the only way for some to pay for life's basic necessities." But condo owners who paid top dollar in The Grand tower near this project, are concerned that the project could give their property an everyday low value. Readers are urged to email Miami Mayor Manuel Diaz at mannydiaz@ci.miami.fl.us with the following message: "Dear Mayor Diaz and City Commissioners, The Wal-Mart project at The City Square is a classic bait-and-switch. When this large mixed-use project was proposed, there was no mention of a Wal-Mart store, which is associated with low wage jobs, cheap Chinese imports, and automobiles. The concept of a waterfront Wal-Mart is an incompatible land use match. There are more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores in America today. If you want to create City Square as a unique destination, with character and charm, then Wal-Mart is a misfit for this project. On the other hand, if you want to increase traffic and crime to the site, a Wal-Mart by the Bay makes perfect sense."










 
 
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