On April 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that 5 Wal-Mart superstores had been canned as a result of Wal-Mart’s retrenchment in new store plans. Superstores were killed or delayed in Brooklyn Center, Cottage Grove, Carver, East Bethel and St. Cloud, Minnesota. The St. Cloud store referred to was actually located in the neighboring community of Waite Park, Minnesota, which was the last to find out that their proposed Wal-Mart supercenter isn’t going to happen. There weren’t many smiles in this place known as “The City with a smile.” Although Wal-Mart was not talking to the local press, they told the Minnesota Business Journal, “We would still like to relocate in St. Cloud, but the site we were working on became cost-prohibitive due to required offsite improvements.” That site was in Waite Park, a city which is located on the western edge of St. Cloud, and is approximately 70 miles northwest of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Waite Park has less than 8 square miles of land, and a 2006 population of 6,770, compared to its 1970 population of 2,824. According to the city’s Comp Plan, “The City lacks a definable historical ‘downtown’ business district which is typically dependent on pedestrian traffic and found in the heart of the original townsite… There are vacant areas for infill dedicated to commercial use… ” The two largest employers currently in Waite Park are a Menard’s home improvement store, and a local grocery store. Six of the top ten employers are retailers. 46% of the city’s tax base comes from commercial and industrial uses, much higher than its neighbor, St. Cloud, which has 27% from commercial/industrial uses. “Waite Park’s employment opportunities are weighted toward the service sector with retail sales, foodservice and hospitality making up the bulk of jobs within the community,” the city’s 2005 Comprehensive Plan says. Since December, city officials had been preparing for the arrival of a Wal-Mart supercenter. In February, the city was discussing the cost of road improvements need to support the Wal-Mart development, and how much the city’s share of that expense would be. But suddenly, officials in Waite Park were told to wait. The city’s Administrator told the St. Cloud Times on May 2nd that plans to build a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club were on hold. The road improvements along 10th Avenue South, are also now on hold. The original plan was to build the supercenter in Waite Park, and close the St. Cloud Wal-Mart discount store on 33rd Avenue South, which is just over one mile away. The nearest supercenters — all less than 30 miles from Waite Park — are in Monticello, Little Falls, and Buffalo, Minnesota. The Wal-Mart supercenter in Waite Park would have been located near the Menards. The location of this supercenter on the edge of St. Cloud made it clearly targeted to St. Cloud, but located in Waite Park. The population in St. Cloud is 66,228 — or ten times greater than Waite Park.
When city officials were preparing the Waite Park Comprehensive Plan, they asked residents “what one major improvement would make living in Waite Park better for them.” One of the answers listed in the top responses was: “Development at a slower pace.” When asked what kind of future business opportunities should be on the city’s list, the response list included: “Locally owned “mom and pop” establishments.” The city’s land use goals include this statement: “The City should emphasize the use of currently available sites within the service area prior to the development of alternative sites. The development of sites within the serviced area will ensure prudent land management, assist in the prevention of ‘leap-frog’ type development and ensure maximum cost effectiveness for community residents. Additionally, efforts shall be made to ensure proper placement and phasing of urban expansion and the maintenance of existing and future land use compatibility. Potential redevelopment areas are primarily centered in or near the City’s core. The City shall focus redevelopment efforts on commercial and residential areas/parcels in the more established areas of the City.” The Plan says that city officials should market Waite Park as a “A community with its own distinctive character.” Readers are urged to email Waite Park Mayor Richard Miller at: [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Miller, Now that Wal-Mart has left you at the altar, it’s a good time to follow up on the goals of your city’s 2005 Comp Plan and prevent leapfrogging of suburban sprawl developments. You can prevent huge superstores from undermining your infill and downtown land use goals by putting a size limit on retail stores. After all, it was not little Waite Park that Wal-Mart wanted. The retailer wants to relocate its St. Cloud store — but to serve the St. Cloud market — not to address the needs of Waite Park. When Wal-Mart said they were abandoning the Waite Park store, they called it the St. Cloud project. Take matters in your hands, and make the big box stores fit into Waite Park’s vision — not the reverse. Then you can truly be a city with a smile.”