Warren, MI. Mayor Threatens Wal-Mart Boycott Over Dead Store
The Mayor of Warren, Michigan has had it with Wal-Mart. In "the city that cares," the Mayor is taking on the world's largest retailer for not caring about what happens in his community.
Jim Fouts, the Mayor of this city of roughly 134,000 people, is so frustrated with a dead Wal-Mart building in this suburb of Detroit, that he's prepared to launch a national boycott of the Arkansas-based retailer.
Mayor Fouts delivered his "State of the City" speech several days ago, using the opportunity to jump on Wal-Mart for its handling of the Tech Plaza strip mall, where an empty Wal-Mart has turned the parcel into a prominent eyesore.
Stymied by lack of Wal-Mart action to deal with its 'dark store,' one of hundreds now on the market with Wal-Mart Realty, the Mayor told the media that he has sent a letter to Wal-Mart warning them that if they don't start talking with city officials about re-use of the building, that he will begin 'nuisance abatement' measures -- a procedure that would allow the city to raze a building that has been vacant for 6 months. Mayor Fouts charges that Wal-Mart's empty store has become a magnet for garbage, rats, prostitutes and gangs, according to mlive.com.
The Detroit Free Press estimates that a crowd of more than 500 people watched the Mayor's speech, in which he said he would pursue Wal-Mart to give up their hold on the property. The Mayor charged that Wal-Mart's actions have kept other retailers from moving in.
It has been a standard covenant in Wal-Mart Realty deals that their empty stores cannot be filled by retailers who compete with Wal-Mart. This restriction has forced many "ghost boxes" abandoned by Wal-Mart to remain empty. In the Warrren case, Wal-Mart is not the building owner, but holds a lease on the property for another seven years.
Warren is the third largest city in Michigan, and has seen its share of hard times during this recession. Population is falling, unemployment is 5% above the national average, and the housing vacancy rate is hovering at 8%.
In recounting his efforts to get Wal-Mart's attention, the Mayor said the giant retailer had thus far been unresponsive to his entreaties. "Enough is enough," the Mayor said in his report. "You're not going to destroy another city."
In an interview after his speech, the Mayor said he has given Wal-Mart three choices: 1) come in and talk with city officials to help find another anchor 2) have the city begin nuisance abatement discussions, and 3) the Mayor would begin a boycott of Wal-Mart.
"Wal-Mart has a reputation for destroying small towns and taking away jobs," the Mayor said. "I won't allow them to destroy the economic vitality in the center of the city." The Mayor said Wal-Mart has left his community with "an empty shell in the center of our downtown area." He indicated that the Wal-Mart building has been vacant for five and a half years.
What you can do: The owner of Tech Plaza, J.J. Gumberg Co., told the Mayor that they would like to get a replacement tenant, but that Wal-Mart can keep the site empty until 2018. Typically in these retail leases, the company pays a very low flat monthly base rent, and a percentage share of sales. When the store stops producing sales revenue, the only remaining payment is the base rent, which is easy for companies like Wal-Mart to afford, keeping the space out of the hands of competitors for years. "We're always looking for somebody to go into that space," she said.
Mayor Fouts has become somewhat of a national curiousity because of his battles with one of his city councilors over his age. City Councilor Kathy Vogt, who is running to replace Mayor Fouts, has filed a lawsuit against the Mayor over his birthdate secrecy. The lawsuit charges that the Mayor's refusal to tell his age is "helping him hide political wrongdoing," said the Free Press.
Fout's threat to mount a boycott of Wal-Mart over the Tech Plaza's demise is seen as another play for national attention.
Within the next month and a half, Fouts is expected to announce his plans to run for re-election as Mayor. He has prominently featured a "Buy American Campaign" on the city's website, and criticized Wal-Mart for its massive Chinese importation business model.
Readers are urged to email Mayor Fouts at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Fouts,
I would certainly support any effort to boycott the Wal-Mart corporation, and if the Wal-Mart building at Tech Plaza is not worth recycling, then it should come down.
But if Wal-Mart is only a tenant there, they will not care if the city demolishes the building -- unless you charge them for the expense. Otherwise, it will be J.J. Gumberg that pays the price for Wal-Mart's early departure.
As you know, Wal-Mart has been sued by many landlords who failed to write into their lease that Wal-Mart had to continuously operate a retail store, or pay for their dead store to be demolished.
You will have to keep up the visibility against Wal-Mart to get their attention, and it goes without saying that you can expect Wal-Mart to attempt to underwrite the campaign of anyone who runs against you for Mayor.
More than a thousand Mayors have watched Wal-Mart slip quietly out of town. You are right to say that enough is enough."