Columbia, Missouri has three Wal-Mart supercenters. That’s about one more than is necessary in this city of roughly 100,000 people. On January 20, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Columbia City Council had voted to support the new Grindstone Plaza, featuring a Wal-Mart supercenter, and a developer’s agreement to go with it. Columbia already has a Wal-Mart discount store at the Rock Bridge Shopping Center, and one city councilman was concerned that the developer’s agreement failed to include language requiring the owner to find a tenant for the dead Wal-Mart once the new project was created. “I felt that should have been in the development agreement because that was one of the promises they made,” the councilman said. “They argued that it was not something they can control because it was market-driven. I’m not that concerned about the empty building, but I do feel if you make a promise you should have to fulfill that promise.” Another councilman who voted for the plan told The Maneater newspaper, “I’m always concerned with a development that large because there can be potential problems with traffic, pedestrian safety and neighborhood integrity.” The newspaper quoted Sprawl-Busters as warning that Columbia should be wary of empty Wal-Mart stores in town, and that Wal-Mart is continuing to build stores to appease investors on Wall Street instead of servicing the community. “Currently, there are 350 dead Wal-Marts on the market and one-third of them have been dead for three years,” Al Norman said. “Wal-Mart is a cannibal that chews up smaller businesses and reduces the number of jobs in a town. For about every one Wal-Mart that moves into a community, two grocery stores close, and that is not a good economic strategy.” As Wal-Mart opened up supercenters in Columbia, it closed down its “old” discount store. Every time a supercenter was proposed in this city, neighbors organized to fight it. In February of 2003, the president of the Park de Ville Neighborhood Association in Columbia vowed that a Wal-Mart developer, The Kroenke Group, would face an uphill battle if it intends to put a Wal-Mart Supercenter across the street from Hy-Vee. “We don’t want a Wal-Mart on that property, especially one that is going to be open 24-7,” said association President Dave Evans. “The streets are not geared to handle that much traffic, and there’s an elementary school across the street. It’s not a good location for a superstore.” Wal-Mart family member Stanley Kroenke, who frequently runs into strong citizen opposition to his sites because of their bad locations, selected 32 acres on which to build. Kroenke needed rezoning from the Columbia city council on 15 acres adjacent to the 17 1/2 acres, which already has commercial zoning. Kroenke got his superstore, and Columbia got a dead Wal-Mart. The state of Missouri today has 26 Wal-Mart properties for sale or lease, including 6 empty Wal-Mart stores. That’s not counting the Wal-Mart discount store on Nifong Boulevard in Columbia, which is being torn down this week. According to the Columbia Missourian newspaper, demolition crews began tearing down the former Wal-Mart store in the Rock Bridge Shopping Center. The former Wal-Mart space has been empty since the store moved to a new location in the Grindstone Plaza development in early 2006. The Wal-Mart sat empty for nearly two years before being demolished. The status of this blighted building was a major concern when the Columbia City Council unanimously approved the store at Grindstone Plaza — and yet city leaders did nothing to prevent the store from deteriorating. “I get a great deal of community response about large, empty retail buildings and the lack of maintenance that takes place,” Mayor Darwin Hindman told the Missourian in January 2006. “The idea that the space was going to be occupied was a serious factor in my decision to approve the rezoning of the property.” The Kroenke group was able to convince the Des Moines, Iowa-based grocery chain, Hy-Vee, to build a store on the old Wal-Mart lot. The grocery store finalized plans in September, 2008 to lease the space. Mayor Hindman said at the time he was pleased that Hy-Vee was going to occupy the vacant space. “It’s good to get these buildings filled with commercial activity,” the Mayor said.
Readers are urged to email Columbia Mayor Hindman at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Hindman, Since you became Mayor in 1995, you have actively promoted environmental causes, with your emphasis on parks and trails. Yet when it comes to retail development, you and the city council have embraced huge, suburban sprawl which is environmentally wasteful, and economically of little value to your city. Neighbors have fought the Wal-Mart supercenters every time, because the locations have not been appropriate for huge stores. The Wal-Mart at Grindstone Plaza, for example, needed to be partially rezoned, because the land was not appropriate for retail, and even less so for giant retail. You let in all this big box sprawl, and then you wonder why some of your empty malls cannot be filled. Columbia was lucky that it was only stuck with a dead Wal-Mart at Rock Bridge for two years. That ‘dark store’ would never have been reused — and now its being torn down. Let the photo in your newspaper of the ‘old’ Wal-Mart store being torn down spur you to do two things: 1) put a cap on the size of retail buildings into your zoning code before you become super-saturated with superstores, and 2) pass a demolition bond ordinance requiring any retail store owner who leaves his property unused as a store for 12 consecutive months, to pay for the costs of restoring the site to its pre-development state. Missouri has six dead Wal-Marts today — you don’t need any more to add to that list.”