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2008-12-02
Kalispell, MT. Big Sky Country, or Big Box Country?

Wal-Mart is moving big time into Big Sky country. Unfortunately, all the company is doing is shutting down its "old" stores, and replacing them with supercenters. That's the Wal-Mart plan for Kalispell, Montana. Situated nearly 3,000 feet above sea level on the west slope of the Rocky Mountains, Kalispell and the surrounding Flathead Valley enjoy a relatively mild and pleasant climate year round. That's what the guidebooks say. But Kalispell also gets an average of 62.2 inches of snow fall every year. Yet something keeps attracting people to Kalispell, because the population in 2007 of 20,300 people is nearly double what it was in 1990. Even with this growth, Kalispell today is still a small town. The largest employer in Kalispell is the Regional Medical Center. The city also has Wal-Mart discount store #2259 on East Idaho Street. The next nearest Wal-Mart is in Polson, Montana roughly 36 miles away. This week, the Flathead Beacon reported that the developer of the Hutton Ranch Plaza has sold off 18 of his acres for Wal-Mart to build a supercenter. The "Ranch" is no ranch at all -- just another retail mall. After roughly a year and a half of negotiations, Wal-Mart has reportedly closed on the deal. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Beacon the company hopes to get a building permit this month or in January, and be starting construction by late spring. The huge store could be open by early 2010. That's apparently how it happens in Montana. Kalispell has a one page cover sheet for commercial applications. The city has a zoning code, but its pretty bare, with several commercial zones that permit retail stores -- with minimum lot coverage and height restrictions -- but no limit at all on the scale of stores. The new Wal-Mart superstore will shut down Wal-Mart Discount store #2259, leaving the city with a dead store, and a bunch of old jobs transferred to a larger building. "We've always kind of known that there was a greater demand for a larger store that sold more products in Kalispell," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. "This just seemed like the right spot." Wal-Mart only leases its "old" store in Kalispell, and has indicated that it will try to sublease its existing store. The retailer has not yet listed its existing Kalispell store for lease. But the job creation in Kalispell will be much smaller than if there were no existing store. "We'll move a lot of those employees over and then probably have to staff up a little more," the company spokesman told the Beacon. Then you have to subtract the jobs that will be lost at Albertson's, or the other grocery stores in the city. The net job impact will be negligible. "We're really looking forward to moving this project forward," the Wal-Mart official said. "We're really happy with how this has all worked out with the city of Kalispell."

What you can do: Kalispell already has a Wal-Mart, but that store has not saved them from rough financial times. The city is currently dealing with a budget shortfall, and considering staff cuts to the police and fire department. The Beacon claims that the new Wal-Mart "is likely to be a big boost to the city's property tax base, though it will take years before that revenue becomes available to the city." Of course, the newspaper has no data to back up that boost. The newspaper reports that a Wal-Mart Super Center in Bozeman, Montana paid $66,000 in property taxes in 2009. That's not much of a boon to a city that will have to increase its police staff just to handle the increased police incidents at the new Wal-Mart superstore. Readers are urged to contact Kalispell Mayor Pamela B. Kennedy at: citycouncil@kalispell.com, with the following message: "Dear Mayor Kennedy, One Wal-Mart in Kalispell is one more than enough. Given the fact that a new Wal-Mart supercenter means a dead Wal-Mart discount store, you might want to get busy drafting up a developer's agreement with Wal-Mart that requires them to put demolition money into escrow, in case they can't find a tenant to lease their space after 12 months of marketing their dead store. The owner of the existing mall site is clearly one of the biggest losers in the trade area. Wal-Mart already has more than 200 dead stores on the market nationwide. Kalispell now joins the dubious list of cities where Wal-Mart left an old store behind, just to move to bigger quarters. The old stores become eyesores. Kalispell should also consider putting a cap on the size of new retail businesses. Before you know it, Big Sky Country can be come Big Box Country if you don't limit the sprawl that's coming your way."










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

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