Holyoke, MA. Wal-Mart Blames Environmental Uncertainties for Superstore Plan Demise
It was short, controversial life for the Wal-Mart superstore in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Three months to the day.
Back on June 18, 2013, Wal-Mart officially announced their intentions to build a superstore in "The Paper City" of Holyoke. On September 18th they pulled the plug.
The citizens' group Holyoke First reacted this week with "cautious elation" in response to Wal-Mart's statement that it was "halting" its plans to build a superstore in a residential neighborhood along Whiting Farms Road. But the group issued a warning as well.
"We are thrilled to see Wal-Mart's back leaving the city," said Holyoke First spokesperson Terri Laramee. "But we will not rest until we know that this project is nailed shut and Wal-Mart is not coming back." Laramee said her group was burned by the Lowe's case---in which they beat a big box, only to have a Wal-Mart resurrected on the same site. "We've learned: It ain't over 'till the fat company sings."
Wal-Mart issued a short press release this week giving up its controversial 160,000 s.f. superstore:
"We continue to have a strong interest in Holyoke and other communities in Western Massachusetts and will keep looking for new locations to make shopping more convenient for our customers. Unfortunately, there were some environmental uncertainties connected with the Whiting Farms Road site. We did not feel it would have been prudent to move forward with our plans without enough time to investigate fully and evaluate the areas of concern. We're disappointed, and we want to express our appreciation to all those in the community who were supportive of our plans. We know that many in the community would have welcomed the jobs and affordable prices our store would have offered, and we remain committed to serving customers in the area with our stores in Chicopee, Northampton and Westfield,"
It simply is not credible that Holyoke Gas & Electric, which is a municipally-owned utility, would not give Wal-Mart the extra time it needed to assess environmental issues at the site. Opponents felt the "political uncertainties" with the project weighed heavier in Wal-Mart's decision than any environmental issues.
Not only was grassroots opposition to their plan growing daily---but they faced an uphill battle in City Hall, since both Mayoral candidates have come out against their plan. Mayor Alex Morse issued a stinging statement against the economics of the project at a press conference in August.
Laramaee said she wants to hear first-hand from Holyoke Gas & Electric that the Walmart land deal is over, and that HG&E will not enter another buy/sell with a big box retailer. "We want this land rezoned back to industrial, so these threats hanging over our homes are gone," Laramee said.
"We don't trust anything this corporate giant says," Laramee concluded. "We cannot relax until this land is zoned beyond the reach of big box retailers. They are no good for our neighborhood, and no good for the city. Now we have a chance to fix that property for years to come, and make it more compatible as a residential neighborhood."
"Still," Laramee concluded, "it's a sweet victory to see our hard work get this far. Now we just need to be sure there is no life left in this terrible proposal."
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Wal-Mart New England at http://newengland.walmartcommunity.com/contact-us/ and leave the following message:
"It's great to see your three month campaign in Holyoke fold its tent.
Yes, your project had to deal with "environmental uncertainties." You misjudged the political environment, and you never expected residents to organize so quickly and so effectively against you. So you misread the social environment as well.
You still had a few public officials convinced that a Wal-Mart means jobs and revenue, but you lost the support of the Mayor, who did a little research of his own to reveal the economic reality of your plans.
I hope you will update your website to let your supporters know the game is over.
So farewell, Holyoke Wal-Mart. We hardly knew ye.