Oconomowoc, WI. City Offers Millions In Subsidies to Build Wal-Mart Superstore
Angry residents in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin want Wal-Mart to walk away from its plans to build a superstore in this small community of roughly 16,000 people. To add insult to injury, the city is bailing out Wal-Mart with taxpayer subsidies.
Oconomowoc has a poverty rate that's one-third of the state of Wisconsin, and a median household income that's 37% higher than the state's median household income. So this is not a community that desperately needs cheap Chinese imports. There are currently 5 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Oconomowoc, including a superstore 10 miles away in Delafield, Wisconsin.
A group called WalkAwayWalMart Inc., has been formed to oppose the proposed development of a Wal-Mart and Sam's Club on a parcel known as Pabst Farms. The group held a meeting on June 18, which the group said "provides an opportunity for like-minded opponents of the current Pabst Farms Plan to come together and begin the task of letting the community know this isn't a done-deal, but a deal the community is done with. The first task is executing a community-wide petition drive providing residents of the community a tool for voicing their opposition. The ambitious goal is 1,000 signatures in 90 days."
The residents charge that the Pabst Farms development was sold as a gateway to the community, with housing and shopping and an upscale mall. The site includes 120-acres, and in March 2008 was described as an upscale retail and restaurant mix, but 62 acres were set aside for anchor stores. The design was depicted as "pedestrian-friendly."
The project was also loaded up with taxpayer subsidies for the developer. The project was sweetened with $24 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) for roads and infrastructure that would benefit Wal-Mart. $2.5 million was added in straight tax breaks, plus $17 million for other costs. At that rate, the taxpayers of Wisconsin should own this superstore, because they are subsidizing it heavily.
At a Wal-Mart appearance before the Oconomowoc Common Council meeting last week, 90 people showed up to oppose the plan. The company has not even submitted a proposal yet to the city, and already it has become a focal point of controversy.
The Town Centre site is apparently zoned for large scale retail stores, but the Town Centre plan may require a vote by the Common Council. Opponents will need more than a petition to stop the project.
At the hearing, a number of local residents warned of the impacts a Wal-Mart could have on existing merchants, and on the city's cost to provide police and fire protection. The city already has a Kmart, which would likely close if a Wal-Mart were to open nearby.
Mayor James Daley told his constituents that the city had no formal application---but their concerns were not falling on deaf ears.
Many neighbors feel that the Wal-Mart plan was a bait-and-switch. "The people you are really cheating are the people who bought homes that wanted something unique," one resident told the City Council. "What is unique about Wal-Mart?"
What you can do: The landowners of Pabst Farm tried to make the case that the weak economy has made it impossible to attract the types of retailers they originally envisioned for the site. In other words, Wal-Mart is the best we can attract.
Readers are urged to visit the opponent's website: http://www.walkawaywalmart.com/ and to email Mayor James Daley at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Daley,
Among your goals for the city is " achieving a thriving and broad based economy." You cannot do this by opening the door to national chains that drain the economy of local merchants, and leave you with low wage jobs and workers dependent on Medicaid.
Speaking of welfare, the city should not be financially subsidizing the Walton billionaires. They certainly have the funds to pay for this project without Wisconsin taxpayers having to offer them a candy store of subsidies that are not available to their smaller competitors. Save your TIF money for industrial projects that create decent jobs.
Oconomowoc already has 5 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles. A store three times the size of a football field, with a parking lot for 2,000 cars, does not fit into a small community of 16,000 people. Tell Wal-Mart they will get no welfare to build this store, and that smaller, neighborhood stores would support a thriving economy, not pick it bone dry."