Spooner, Wisconsin likes to call itself “the perfect Up North town.” “We are surrounded by woods, lakes, rivers and friendly people,” the city’s website says. “With a population of around 2700, Spooner is perfect for a family vacation, a fishing expedition, a permanent residence or a second home.” But local residents worry that Spooner will be surrounded by more than just “woods, lakes, rivers and friendly people” if Wal-Mart gets its way. On January 18, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that a controversial Wal-Mart supercenter project in Spooner, Wisconsin was on hold. “There is nothing yet to report on the status of the project on Spooner,” a Wal-Mart senior manager of public affairs said in an e-mail to Spooner Mayor Louie Villella. “While no decision has been made regarding the Spooner project, I feel it’s important you know what’s driving these decisions, and that you know these decisions are shaped by Wal-Mart’s desire for a responsible and managed growth strategy. Again, there is nothing yet to report on the status of the project in Spooner, but my colleagues at Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville expect this project to be reviewed in the coming weeks. I will of course keep you informed.” Wal-Mart admitted that the Spooner Supercenter was in a “holding pattern” while the company tried to “manage our growth to insure the long-term success.” After roughly four months in limbo, Wal-Mart announced in April that under new “business parameters,” the supercenter project would proceed — on a smaller scale than originally proposed, according to the Spooner Advocate newspaper. That news prompted a response. Larry Colby of Spooner, went to the City Council meeting on May 6th and suggested that a Wal-Mart might not be the revenue cash cow that local officials expected, and that the city should develop a detailed ‘developer’s agreement’ that looked at conditions of traffic impact, storm water control, municipal services, charitable activity and elderly transit contribution, etc. The Washburn County Register reported that other residents asked that the council slow the process down and prepare a developer’s agreement carefully. One resident warned the Council that officials in Rice Lake, Wisconsin regretted that they had not conducted more research when they accepted a Wal-Mart Supercenter — which caused their “smaller” Wal-Mart store to sit empty at a $200,000 liability. Area resident Steve Carlson recommended an “advisory referendum” to see how many citizens wanted Wal-Mart in town. Carlson said he had felt a nonbinding referendum should have been done two years ago, when Wal-Mart first came to the city.
Sprawl-Busters reported on May 25, 2005 that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and Washburn county officials had sent Wal-Mart a “list of improvements” they wanted for highways and access to the proposed supercenter. The officials told Wal-Mart these improvements were “required to be completed at Wal-Mart’s expense prior to the opening of the proposed Wal-Mart store. Opponents of the project told Sprawl-Busters, “In a letter sent to the engineering firm Olsson Associates, the DOT outlined all the traffic issues that need to be addressed and explained that the costs of these improvements would have to be paid by Wal-Mart. This was the first public statement that Wal-Mart — not the taxpayers of Spooner or Washburn County — would be held accountable for these road improvements attributable to the Wal-Mart store. It has been estimated that the cost could reach $4.8 million. A proposed 153,000 sf. Wal-Mart Supercenter has been slated for a 35 acre parcel of land that is currently owed by Washburn County. In November of 2005, the land sale for $1 million was of course ‘top secret’, with officials saying only that it involved a Fortune 100 retailer By March of 2006 the Mayor of Spooner admitted the retailer could be “a Wal-Mart Concept”. Finally it was revealed that Wal-Mart wanted to come to Spooner, Wisconsin, population 2600, with two Supercenters 20 minutes away in two directions. The grass-roots citizens group Washburn County First (WCF) formed to get information out to the public about the negative impact this development would have on our small town retailers and the county at large. WCF filed a lawsuit against the county for open meetings violations and against the City Board of Alderman for alleged irregularities in granting a variance for the Supercenter with regard to highway access. The county admitted to one count of the open meeting case and has paid a fine… The richest company in the world, is playing the Squeeze Game and wants our residents to subsidize their store by hesitating to finalize this sale in hopes that the City or county will come to their aid. The city is already putting them in a TIF (tax increment financing) district to offset taxes, and Washburn County is one of the poorest in the state.” Readers are urged to email Spooner’s current Mayor Gary Cuskey at [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Cuskey, Your city is promoting its quality of life, so you want to keep in balance how many lakes and rivers you have versus how many Big Box stores you have. A Wal-Mart supercenter has been controversial since Day One in Spooner. You have seen the on-again, off-again mentality at Wal-Mart. Tomorrow they could pull up stakes and leave. You are not in control of the future of your community. The taxpayers of Wisconsin should not invest one dime in this project. Wal-Mart, with a net profit of more than $12 billion last year, does not need your TIF agreement, or any other form of welfare subsidy. Once they get in they will shortchange the state on income taxes, hassle you on their property valuation, and do nothing but force local merchants — especially grocery stores to shut down. A non-binding referendum in Spooner is just that — advisory. You should be insisting on a developer’s agreement that ensures that Wal-Mart will pay for every penny of roadwork needed, shut down their store at 11 pm and open it again at 7 am, no overnight truck deliveries, minimum lighting at night, appropriate sound barriers around the store, and a demolition bond to pay for the cost of tearing down the store, in anticipation of the day they will shut it down. You are not making a long term relationship here. This store will be scrapped within two decades, and will be the biggest eyesore Spooner has ever seen. This company is going to ruin your ‘perfect up North town.”