Wal-Mart got that deflated feeling this week, when the city council in Albuquerque, New Mexico shot down their plans for a superstore. The opponents that brought the big store down to earth were more than your usual mix of suspects. In Albuquerque, this may be the first Wal-Mart superstore ever defeated by balloonists. The retailer’s plans for a storen lost out to the city’s desire to acquire the land for a balloon landing site. “We’re not anti-Wal-Mart,” a group activists and balloonists told the Albuquerque Tribune. “We’re anti-colossal, regional big-box-type development that will essentially devastate this area.” A neighborhood group, the Alameda North Valley Association, opposed the 22-acre superstore site on Vista del Norte Drive Northeast. They warned against increased traffic, which would make it difficult and dangerous for neighborhood residents to get to and from their homes. The store would be open 24 hours and would sell alcohol. But they had allies among the balloonists. The Rainbow Ryders, Albuquerque’s largest balloon-ride company, said 70% of balloonists in the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta pass over the now-empty field on Osuna. Many choose it as a natural landing spot, he said. “We’ve got a world-class launch facility” at Balloon Fiesta Park, said a spokesman for the Rainbow Ryders. “But the city needs to start thinking seriously about where people are supposed to land. As development continues, it’s getting more and more difficult.” But it’s not just balloonists that turned the wind against Wal-Mart. It was money. Last year, the balloon fiesta brought the city an estimated $120 million. The head of the Vista del Norte Alliance told the Tribune that Wal-Mart “has taken this to the next level” by putting up petitions in all its area stores asking shoppers to support the supercenter. “Now it’s corporate America versus the little guy, and I don’t believe we’re going to put up with it,” he said. “We’re going to fight it tooth and nail.” And the balloonists/neighbors won. Last night, the Albuquerque city councilors rejected Wal-Mart’s plan. The council voted to buy the site and keep it for a landing space for the annual balloon fiesta. City Council President Debbie O’Malley said the city has earmarked $6.1 million to buy the land, but added that Wal-Mart may be reluctant to sell — so the city may have to resort to eminent domain and condemn the land. The vote to reject Wal-Mart’s store was unanimous.
The county has appraised the land at $3.6 million, but Wal-Mart says it is worth more than $10 million. If a settlement price can’t be reached and the city seeks condemnation of the property, a judge will end up setting the purchase price. But don’t feel sorry for Wal-Mart shoppers in Albuquerque. The city already has 9 Wal-Marts, of which 6 are supercenters. It makes more sense economically to protect a major tourist event, than to over-saturate the area with a tenth Wal-Mart. The city council was unanimously right on this one.