On May 12, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Newman Development Group had announced a proposed Wal-Mart superstore on Lester Avenue in Johnson City, New York. Newman Development, based in nearby Vestal, New York, wants to build a 130,720 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on the site of the former Endicott Johnson Ranger Paracord site in the village. Newman Development has been trying to redevelop this property as a retail center for 14 years, the company claims. The Johnson market area already has a larger Wal-Mart supercenter in Vestal, which is only a five minute drive from Johnson. The Ranger Paracord site was a shoe factory for 80 years and was part of the Endicott-Johnson legacy of dozens of factories that spawned the company towns of Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott in what was once known as “the Valley of Opportunity.” Johnson City Mayor Harry G. Lewis has told the Gannett newspaper that he’s pleased Wal-Mart chose his village for its newest Supercenter. “We look forward to having Wal-Mart and its employees become a part of our community,” the Mayor said. Ironically, Johnson City has a Downtown Partnership — a group focused on revitalizing downtown Johnson City. This Wal-Mart supercenter will give the Downtown Partnership plenty to work on for years to come. Residents have formed a group called the Coalition for Positive Revitalization for Johnson City. One member told the Channel 10 News, “Johnson city needs positive revitalization. We just can’t afford to have another business come into this area that is detrimental to our local economy.” The group says Wal-Mart will generate too much traffic, have a adverse impact on the environment, and put mom and pop shops out of business. “Having a few hundred, what would amount to poverty wage jobs, with very little benefit is maybe better than having none,” another member said. “But the question is do we have to develop this right now?” The Coalition has another vision for Johnson City. They would like to see a high tech conference center. “The message is develop, don’t destroy. Wal-Mart will destroy our community, we need to develop our community.” The village board is expected to vote on the project next week. When the village board votes on October 2nd, they have to change the zoning from industrial to retail.
The Coalition is holding a rally this Sunday to generate a larger turnout at the village board meeting., “We have to show the village board just how many residents are against this retail development,” one member explained. Bob Olcott, the owner of a small business called Art Allure, told the Press & Sun-Bulletin that the proposed Wal-Mart could cost him his life savings. His store, he said, was established in an existing building he and his wife spent all of their savings to refurbish. Local businesses and the wages they must pay can’t compete with the overseas labor costs of the products Wal-Mart sells, he said. “It’s almost impossible to compete on a level playing field.” The Wal-Mart site is not properly zoned, and no developer has an automatic right to rezoning. In this case, the village is being asked to “downzone” from industrial — which produces higher paying jobs — to retail, which pays low-wage. The site is located next to the new Gannett newspaper printing plant, demonstrating that the land could have significantly more value to taxpayers if used for expansion of industrial activity. Readers are urged to support the effort of the Coalition to stop this downzoning Wal-Mart project. Contact Johnson City Mayor Harry G. Lewis at 607-729-3708, and tell him: “Your ‘valley of opportunity’ is being turned into a dumping ground for low wage jobs and cheap Chinese imports. The Vestal Wal-Mart is only 5 minutes away. Instead of destroying local jobs, focus on rebuilding your downtown, and using industrial land for industrial jobs.”