On May 7, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had lost a Plan Commission vote in Cudahy, Wisconsin. But losing a vote and losing the battle are not the same thing to Wal-Mart. The retailer has decided to give Cuhahy a second chance, and return with some design changes to a June 10th meeting of the Plan Commission. Cudahy is a small community with just over 18,000 people with the motto, “Generations of Pride.” The vision for the city’s future is a revitalized downtown that will become the “heart of the South Shore.” The city is right in the middle of updating its Comprehensive Plan, and one of its most prominent goals is creating a “vital downtown.” The emphasis is on high quality of life, and pedestrian-oriented development. That’s why the idea of a new Wal-Mart supercenter ran into rough going in Cudahy from the start. The community doesn’t need another Wal-Mart. There are currently ten Wal-Mart’s within 20 miles of Cudahy, including a discount store 5 miles away in Milwaukee, and a supercenter 18 miles away in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. There are two Wal-Mart Supercenters opening about 5 miles away on S. 27th St in Franklin and in Milwaukee. Also
Woodmans recently opened a 200,000 plus sq ft store in Oak Creek which is all grocery, roughly 5 miles away. The idea of a supercenter surfaced in November of 2007, when Wal-Mart offered to build their store in an abandoned site called Iceport. According to CudahyNow, many of the 100 people who came to that first information meeting were cool to the idea of the retailer using the Iceport parcel. “We do not need another outlet for cheap Chinese crap,” one of the evening’s speaker bluntly stated. The developer, Continental Properties, outlined tentative plans for the “Cudahy Station,” a 26-acre parcel on E. Layton Ave. and the Iceport Way. Continental has an option to purchase the 26-acre parcel south of East Layton Avenue between South Nicholson Avenue and Sweet Apple-Wood Lane. The company’s purchase agreement is with Sportsites LLC, which planned at one point to develop the Powerade Iceport, slated to be a regional ice hockey center with four professional-size ice hockey rinks and one Olympic-size rink. The $35 million project fell through in 2003. If Continental’s plans fall through, the city has the right to take back ownership of the site. Continental is in a hurry, because the deadline for the land sale is July 1st. The Cudahy Wal-Mart was presented as a 137,577 s.f. store. This is on the smaller end of Wal-Mart supercenters, but a company spokeswoman added, “We need to start looking at some of these smaller prototypes because that is what the customer wants. (The Cudahy store) would be a more flexible prototype, something that you have never seen before.” Continental said in another phase of the project a hotel and convention center was planned, plus a water park or business incubator. Wal-Mart told the city it was the “best shot” at finding a company with pockets deep enough to make the Iceport property a destination. Wal-Mart promised that it would not seek money from the city for environmental remediation work needed at the site, or for any other part of the project. “There are not a lot of companies that can afford to do all that work, but Wal-Mart can afford it,” she told city officials. But Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue poured ice water on the Iceport plan. He told CudahyNow that his vision was to improve the city’s downtown, assist small businesses, and improve the city’s image. “I am not a fan of Wal-Mart,” Mayor McCue said. “I do not feel that Wal-Mart follows the spirit of the Cudahy master plan.” The chilly reception Wal-Mart received forced Continental Properties to keep tinkering with the plan, in a frantic effort to win back public support. In February of 2008, the Cudahy Community Development Authority recommended approval of a new plan from Continental. Under a revised plan, Wal-Mart found a new partner: a soccer training academy for the Milwaukee Wave. “It’s long been our dream to have a training home, as well as a place to develop and grow the game throughout southeastern Wisconsin and beyond,” a spokesman for the Milwaukee Wave said. The developer agreed to move the buildings closer to the street, and to improve pedestrian access. “We believe that by working with the city, we have come up with a better project,” Continental said in late April. “We believe that this project would be a welcome addition to Cudahy and southern Milwaukee County.” As time went on, the project started to become known as the “Milwaukee Wave’s plan” for a soccer training academy, with Wal-Mart hiding behind the goal posts. But in early May, the Wave and Wal-Mart both failed to score when the Cudahy Plan Commission rejected the Cudahy Station development. The vote against the plan was 4-3, with Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue casting one of the no votes. “I’m stunned,” a spokesman for the Wave said. “I’m not giving up.” But Mayor McCue replied, “The plan commission voted against Continental’s proposed use. Continental Properties is still able to submit alternate proposals.” Two weeks later, Wal-Mart is back — but little has changed with the plan. By putting the buildings closer to the street, the developer says it now has a “hard urban edge,” and walking paths have been added. Pressure is also being put on Mayor McCue, who said in his campaign for Mayor last year that a Wal-Mart would hurt the city’s image. In a letter to the Milwaukee Journal, the Mayor repeated his position that Cudahy “can do better than a big box retailer at that location.” Two Cudahy residents who are upset with the Mayor’s position on Wal-Mart are now leading an effort to vote him out of office. “He obviously doesn’t care that the people want the Wal-Mart,” one of the recall leaders told the Journal. The group will have to collect 1,749 signatures to put the recall effort on the ballot. For now, the effort is designed to turn Mayor McCue into a Wal-Mart supporter by June 10th.
When elected officials have the guts to take clear positions on an issue like Wal-Mart, it is not surprising that some residents start to make threats. The “Cudahy Station” started off as a retail center with a huge Wal-Mart, but it changed into a soccer team’s training academy, that just happened to have a Wal-Mart twice the size as the soccer buildings. The Cudahy Plan Commission kept the focus on the Wal-Mart, even as the retailer tried to catch a free ride on the goodwill for the Milwaukee Wave. Mayor Ryan McCue made it clear that a suburban big box store on the edge of the city is incompatible with the planning process that Cudahy has been engaged in for several years now. Some Mayors might have been wooed by the promise of additional tax revenues, but McCue focused on the city’s downtown plans, and the damage that Wal-Mart could bring to that plan. The Milwaukee Wave became the sugar coating on the bitter pill, but the Plan Commission just wasn’t ready to swallow the plan. Readers are urged to email Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue at [email protected] with this message: “Don’t let a few citizens try to scare you off of your convictions about the Cudahy Stations fiasco. You are right that Cuhady can do better than a big box at that site. Recall is just another word for retribution — but they are many residents who applaud you for standing by Cudahy’s vision. Wal-Mart is incompatible with the goals of your Master Plan. All that Wal-Mart will do is force a couple of Pick ‘N Saves to close. This is not economic development, and its definitely not downtown revitalization. Don’t let the threat of a recall effort distract you from your goal. A Wal-Mart supercenter is a penalty kick to the Cudahy business community, and nothing to cheer about. The recall effort will fail, and Cudahy will be better off without the supercenter.”