Chalk up the 7th. Wal-Mart defeat just in the past two weeks. The Gainesville City Commission voted 4-3 this week not to trade the 32 acre Northside Park to Wal-Mart for a supercenter, in exchange for a 91 acre property under Wal-Mart’s control. Here’s a report from the frontlines of the battle: “I am pleased to report that we won a major battle last night against Wal-Mart in Gainesville at the City Commission. Wal-Mart had proposed to convert a recreational park into a Supercenter (200,000+ sq feet) and in return donate 90 nearby acres (Hartman property) to the City for a park. Twice before, Wal-Mart had proposed a Supercenter at the Hartman property and lost on environmental and land-use considerations. Wal-Mart would donate one million dollars for the new park. Wal-Mart also offered to build a superstore in the poorer east Gainesville market. There is huge dearth of retail in east Gainesville. Wal-Mart spent considerable funds on a mass mailer as well as increased TV saturation. The local newspaper endorsed their proposal. On the surface this looked like an invincible proposal. Wal-Mart had the support of most Afro-American leaders and much of the business and developer community. They also offered to help make up the City’s park deficit. We were able to defeat them by exposing lies, organizing neighbors and preemptive maneuvers. The City Hall auditorium was overflowing with our supporters. In the audacity of disingenuousness Wal-Mart took these actions: Early in the Commission meeting there was a two hour presentation by a local developer and leading citizens on a proposal for the “Great American Park” at the Hartman property (this is the site Wal-Mart has lost on twice before). Wal-Mart would donate the land in exchange for Northside Park and this developer would donate the first one million dollars for park infrastructure. What the developer failed to mention is that he owns an ongoing development adjacent to the Hartman property which would increase in value beyond one million dollars with a new park next door. We trumped this proposal by having the County Conservation Fund agree to consider buying the land for conservation and park use; Wal-Mart told all the major Afro-American leaders that if Northside Park was approved they would get a superstore in east Gainesville. According to one of the top business geographers in the country, Professor Thrall, – this is ludicrous. A Northside Park store and a Waldo Road east Gainesville store will cover too much of the same market – classical bate and switch by Wal-Mart. We showed Professor Thrall’s data to a leading Afro-American politician who then testified that Wal-Mart cannot hold east Gainesville as hostage; Wal-Mart contended that few citizens used Northside Park and it is virtually excess land. Hundreds of neighbors showed up at the meeting with “Save Our Parks” stickers. We actually had too many neighborhoods and enthusiasts for the Park so we had to discourage some from speaking so we could get our vote completed last night! The key to our success was staying on target: the land swap is a bad deal with better alternatives and the eastside proposal is a vapor-store. Key elements included: organizing, information flow and political lobbying.” Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said problems with tying the Northside Park proposal to an east-side supercenter, complexities in the process behind the park swap and the city’s credibility in stewarding its parks led to her decision to vote against Wal-Mart. “There’s a certain sacredness to a park and certain credibility to a local government in how it treats its designated uses,” Hanrahan told the Gainesville Sun. The Mayor also was able to read the room. When she asked the more than 140 people in attendance how they felt about the plan, nearly everyone indicated they were against it. “It’s disappointing,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper after the vote. “Especially given the difficulty the city has had with finding park funding recently.” One local resident offered to put up $1 million to create a park at Northwest Avenue. A group called “Save Our Parks” held a rally before the Commission meeting.
Three strikes and you’re out. Wal-Mart is now a three-time loser in Gainesville. But the company will keep looking for sites to exploit, and continue to run into citizen opposition wherever they turn. For earlier stories about Wal-Mart’s “no gain in Gainesville” campaigns, search Newsflash by the name of the community.