Kalispell, MT. Big Box, Big Sky, And Big Empty Store
On December 2, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had Big Plans for Big Sky country.
The Big Retailer is shutting down its "old" stores in Montana, and replacing them with supercenters. That was 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. But that store is going to close soon.
The next nearest Wal-Mart is in Polson, Montana roughly 36 miles away. In December of 2008, the Flathead Beacon reported that the developer of the Hutton Ranch Plaza had 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 closed on the deal. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Beacon at the time that the company hoped to get a building permit by January, 2009 and be starting construction by late spring. The huge store was slated to open by early 2010.
This is how it is done in Montana: no mess, no fuss. Kalispell has a one page cover sheet for commercial applications. The city has a zoning code, but its as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard.
Kalispell has several commercial zones that permit retail stores -- with minimum lot coverage and height restrictions -- but no limit at all on the scale of stores.
Sprawl-Busters noted a year and a half ago, that the new Wal-Mart superstore would shut down the "old" 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 explained. "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 Wal-Mart discount store, which is 129,521 s.f., is listed as "coming soon" by Wal-Mart Realty. This store sits on 18 acres and was only built in 1995 -- making the store only 15 years old.
The move to a larger store means that Kalispell will see little or no job or revenue growth from this superstore. Most of the 'new' jobs will be carried over from the dead store. "We'll move a lot of those employees over and then probably have to staff up a little more," a 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."
This week the Flathead Beacon newspaper announced that the new superstore will open on the morning of June 16th. The newspaper repeats the Wal-Mart claim that the superstore will result in "another 175 new employees." At 188,028 s.f., the store's total workforce will be around 400, Wal-Mart says. The retailer says the superstore will have a grocery department with a bakery, produce section and deli serving fresh food; a beer and wine department; a drive-through lawn and garden center; an expanded electronics department; a pharmacy; a digital photo processing center; a Subway; more than 30 merchandise departments including apparel; and a cell phone center. That gives you a sense of where jobs will be lost elseswhere in the community.
The store will also feature Wal-Mart's "wide aisles, improved layout, directional signage, more energy-efficient technology, skylights that provide more daylight and better department alignment."
Wal-Mart's goal is a store that's "fast, friendly and clean." The new store manager told the newspaper, "The layout of the store is easy to navigate, which will save our customers time as they shop for everyday necessities," The company says it is making "one-stop shopping even easier."
What you can do: Meanwhile, a empty store on 18 acres of land will soon grown dark, just minutes away from the new store. To make that pain a little easier, the Wal-Mart Foundation will give away $60,000 at the ribbon cutting ceremony. They will make that back in profit in the first couple of days.
Kalispell already had a Wal-Mart -- but that store did not save them from rough financial times. In 2008, when this project was unveiled, the city was dealing with a budget shortfall, and considering staff cuts to the police and fire department. The Beacon claimed 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." Yet no study was ever done of the net fiscal impact of this store on the local trade area. Local officials might not be too pleased with the results.
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 Tammi Fisher at: email@example.com, with the following message: "Dear Mayor Fisher, 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 minutes away. The old Wal-Mart stores become eyesores.
The number of 'new' jobs created by this project you'll be able to count on one hand -- because for every job at the new store -- another job will be lost at the nearby grocery store competitors.
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."