The state of Wisconsin has seven dead Wal-Mart buildings on the market, and number 8 is well on its way. Sprawl-Busters reported in a February 19, 2008 Newsflash that Waukesha, Wisconsin officials have been planning for a new Wal-Mart supercenter near Highway 59. But rumors started to circulate in the press that the supercenter project might be dead — another victim of Wal-Mart’s cutback in superstore growth plans. In the summer of 2007, Wal-Mart announced that it was proposing a new supercenter to open in the summer of 2009. This obviously meant that their existing discount store near Highway 164 would close. Wal-Mart never said the superstore project was in peril, but would only say that they were still negotiating with Heartland Development Group of Milwaukee. Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson tried to prepare his constituents for the worst. “I wouldn’t say the project is dead,” the Mayor told Greater Milwaukee Today. “I would say it’s in flux.” The Mayor said he hoped to know more within a couple of weeks. “I’m still hopeful it can be worked out.” The Mayor has been hopeful for the past ten months. This week, he got to announce that the project was, in fact, moving forward again. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported yesterday that Wal-Mart has purchased 32 acres of land on Highway 59 on the site of the old Cretex concrete plant. Some residents might consider a dead concrete plant better than a new Wal-Mart supercenter, but the retailer is claiming the new store will bring 350 jobs to the area. Most of these jobs, however, will be transfers from their existing discount store, which will close when the superstore opens. Wal-Mart explained that 40% of the jobs would be part-time, and they said the workers would make $10.91 per hour on average — which is less than the $11.20 per hour that Wal-Mart claims it pays its Wisconsin workers statewide. Mayor Nelson told the Journal that Wal-Mart would create a “stronger retail presence” in the southside of Waukesha — which he says has been ‘somewhat underserved’ by retailers in the past. Nelson said the superstore construction will begin this spring. “All we need to do is have the weather warm up,” the Mayor explained. The reality is, unless the economy warms up first, the new superstore is largely going to take its sales from other merchants in Waukesha, such as Roundy’s, Pick ‘n Save, Jewel, and Sentry. When the snow melts in Waukesha, Mayor Nelson is not going to find any new jobs in the retail sector of his city. All he will have on his hands is an empty Wal-Mart discount store.
This proposed superstore is just a few miles from the Wal-Mart discount store on the east side of Waukesha. So far, Wal-Mart has been unwilling to comment on what will happen to their existing store. According to the Sprawl-Busters store from last February, Wal-Mart indicated that their ‘old’ store would close. A dead store in Waukesha would join 7 other dead Wal-Mart stores currently on the market. Of those 7 ‘dark stores,’ four of the Wisconsin locations are roughly 100,000 s.f. or larger, and were built in the 1990s. Neighbors of the Cretex Cement Plant yard on the south side of the city were not too pleased when they learned of Wal-Mart’s plans. Unlike Mayor Nelson, they were hoping Wal-Mart’s proposal would fail. The city’s Plan Commission rejected the first version of the store as being “too plain,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But Wal-Mart quickly threw a Tuxedo on Frankenstein’s monster, submitting what the newspaper referred to as a “dressed up version” of the 180,000-s.f. store — complete with limestone columns, pilasters and an area for public art. Unfortunately, the retailer has no way to “dress up” the traffic along the two-lane access road, or “dress up” the crime that will accompany this superstore, or the negative impact on surrounding residential properties. Limestone columns won’t cure any flooding problems that come with the runoff from the vast expanse of impervious parking lot. Mayor Nelson is just thrilled that a 24-hour Wal-Mart near a residential zone is only a few miles from another proposed big box mall that includes a Target and a Lowe’s. Readers are urged to email Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson at [email protected] with this message: “Mayor Nelson, you said in your State of the City speech in 2007 that your city was working with Waukesha County on Smart Growth. How can you be promoting a Wal-Mart supercenter and boasting of smart growth in the same community? You’re proud of Waukesha as one of the best small cities in the country, yet you imitate the kind of suburban sprawl that robs local communities of their character and sense of place. Do you really want to be searching for a new occupant for the Wal-Mart store on Route 164? This is not very smart growth, in fact, its growth that brings no added value to your city. Talk to your local merchants. They will tell you privately the truth: that Wal-Mart is a money exporter, and kills local businesses. For Waukesha, one Wal-Mart is one more than enough. It’s time for you to write into a developer’s agreement with Wal-Mart that the company will put money into a demolition bond to pay for razing their ‘old’ store if it sits empty for more than 12 consecutive months. If you want to see what’s in store for Waukesha, take a drive over to Kenosha, Monroe, Racine, or Steven’s Point. You’ll see the dead stores that Wal-Mart has left behind when they went ‘super.’ This project will go down as ‘Nelson’s super-mistake,’ because it is not a form of economic development at all — just more mall sprawl.”