Ogden, UT Eminent Domain Didnít Work, But Wal-Mart Is Back Again
There's a Wal-Mart superstore in Clinton, Utah. Six years ago this month, Sprawl-Busters wrote up the comments of the Police Chief in Clinton, who had nothing super to say about his Wal-Mart superstore. "You just about name it," the Chief told the media. "Domestic violence, shoplifting, fraud scams, we've had DUI, traffic accidents, medical situations -- we haven't had any shootings yet." The Clinton police estimate that their population of 18,000 nearly doubles in size each day because of his city's Wal-Mart.
The Clinton chief told the story of one court judge asking him, "Have you been Wal-Mart-ized yet?"
Wal-Mart had an answer to the Chief's criticisms. "Before we build a store, we begin a conversation with local law enforcement and we begin building a relationship with them," said Sharon Weber, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. The cops get to know the Wal-Mart parking lot very intimately.
The Mayor of Harrisville, Utah, on the other hand, claims that his city gets $720,000 a year in sales taxes from Wal-Mart. The community of just 4,000 people has seen calls to the police rise by one-third since Wal-Mart opened for business in 2005. The cops in Harrisville say the crime rate in their city is not because of local residents. According to Harrisville police, their Wal-Mart has attracted drug users on methamphetamine who come to the superstore late at night. Most of the arrests in Harrisville are people from neighboring Ogden, population 82,000 people.
For this reason, residents of Clinton and Harrisville were pleased to learn this week that Ogden is going to have its own Wal-Mart superstore. The Harrisville store is 3 miles from the Ogden site, the Clinton Wal-Mart is 7 miles from Ogden, and 3 miles from Ogden there's a third Wal-Mart superstore in Riverdale.
Wal-Mart has a nasty history in Ogden. On February 24, 2005, Sprawl-Busters revealed that city officials in Ogden were attempting to use their eminent domain powers to condemn property and move people out of their homes forever, to clear a path for a Wal-Mart a few blocks from Ogden's struggling downtown.
The 21 acre demolition was going to destroy 34 homes and 8 local businesses. One homeowner told reporters: "I think the city leaders are looking down here and they're not seeing people or businesses. They're seeing dollar signs."
Ogden Mayor Matt Godfrey invoked a higher cause for his actions: "We don't like to do this. We feel bad about the people who don't want to sell, but I think it's in the greater good that we redevelop this area."
But another resident summed up how the homeowners felt about being betrayed by their Mayor and city officials: "It's wrong. It's fundamentally wrong to kick people out of their homes and give them less than it's worth, because they got the power to do it through eminent domain, and then give that to the biggest company in the world."
Several months later the Utah legislature voted to revoke eminent domain and thus killed the Wal-Mart project. By January of 2006, the Ogden City Council had gone on record opposing the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects.
In 2008, Wal-Mart found a way back in to Ogden. A California developer sold 14 acres of land to Wal-Mart, and the company began the permitting process to build a 147,000 s.f. superstore. In October, 2009, the Standard-Examiner newspaper reported that the Wal-Mart project was on hold because of some problems with the drainage system.
But this week the newspaper announced that Wal-Mart was back on track in Ogden. Wal-Mart is in the process of obtaining its building permits within the next few days from the city. A Wal-Mart spokesman said construction could start within the next few weeks. "We are glad to see things moving ahead," the company spokesman told the Standard-Examiner, "and glad to be opening next year."
Mayor Godfrey couldn't be happier. He got his Wal-Mart -- and without having to use eminent domain. He told reporters that the large crowd of shoppers coming to his Wal-Mart will increase business traffic for other stores downtown. In the classic expression of economic illiteracy, he added: "It's good for merchants in the area."
What you can do: Mayor Godfrey is striking back at the smaller cities like Clinton and Harrisville, which have been stealing his sales for six or seven years now. But these other towns have also stolen Ogden's crime and law enforcement expenses.
Not every Mayor in the area is as lost as Mayor Godfrey. In January of 2010, the Mayor of Plain City, Utah, population roughly 5,300 people, spoke plainly about how he views big box stores. According to Plain City Mayor Jay Jenkins, his city is positioned in the corner of Weber County, and no one travels through Plain City on their way to anywhere else. "We are not trying to attract commercial growth," the Mayor admits. "I ran for mayor on a platform of keeping Plain City as a bedroom community."
Mayor Jenkins understands what comes with sprawl like Wal-Mart. He says big box growth comes with "a demand for services that far outstrips the tax benefits." It also comes with other costs that can't always be measured, like the impact development has on lifestyle. "There's a higher crime rate that comes with retail businesses," Jenkins admits, "and a need for higher-density housing than what we have here."
To make the Ogden situation even worse, the Wal-Mart supercenter will be opening near a WinCo grocery store which opened recently near the Wal-Mart site. Both grocers will be going after the same customers, and the city could be dealing with an empty WinCo within the next few years.
Readers are urged to call Ogden Mayor Matt Godfrey after business hours at (801) 629-8111 and leave the following message: "Dear Mayor Godfrey, you talk about your city as being rich in "natural assets that make Ogden truly unique and remarkable." You talk about the mountains, the foothills, and a "defined downtown area." You are probably one of the few Mayors in America who was willing to use eminent domain to build a Wal-Mart supercenter.
Now Ogden, Clinton, Riverdale and Harrisville all will be swimming in Wal-Mart sprawl and crime. Harrisville will not be able to complain about Ogden people bringing crime to their area, because Ogden's Wal-Mart will take care of that right at home. And when the new WinCo closes, you will surely keep telling your constituents that Wal-Mart is good for other businesses.
You have just embraced mediocrity, and begun the process of killing off the unique character of Ogden. You might want to pay some heed to Mayor Jenkins in his little community of Plain City. He doesn't want your big box crime and automobile dependent sprawl. This Wal-Mart will be remembered for years as 'Godfrey's Goof.'