This is the story of how a piece of land given to a YMCA that was supposed to remain in a natural state ended up becoming a Wal-Mart supercenter — and even worse — killing a Wal-Mart discount store five miles away.
The city of Elyria, Ohio has become the site of the 12th ‘dark store’ owned by Wal-Mart. A 120,036 s.f. Wal-Mart in Elyria is now on the list of stores being marketed by Wal-Mart Realty — but its also another empty box whose property taxes will plummet, and sales taxes disappear. Ohio now has 1.2 million square feet of dead Wal-Marts.
The Elyria store has closed because Wal-Mart built a new superstore in Lorain, Ohio, just five miles away. On November 23, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that voters in Lorain had rejected a Wal-Mart supercenter at the polls. When a Home Depot project followed almost immediately, a group called The Friends of Anna E. Martin, named in the memory of the land’s former owner, formed to oppose Liberty Development Co.’s plans to build Lighthouse Village plaza on 65 acres.
The Lorain group circulated petitions for a referendum against the rezoning. The Lorain City Council approved rezoning of the property by a vote of 9-2 in 2005, and approved the preliminary plans for the Lighthouse “Village” project. Anna E. Martin willed the property to the Lorain YWCA in the 1960s to be preserved in its natural state and used for women’s and youth programs. A Probate Judge ruled in 1994 that the Church on the North Coast could buy the property from the YWCA and had to adhere to the conditions of the will.
The Judge also ruled the church could sell the property to Liberty Development contingent on City Council approving the rezoning. Liberty Development was also required to donate $1.2 million to local charities to satisfy Martin’s wishes in the will.
The developer put up a Home Depot at Lighthouse Village, along with a Kohl’s Department store.
On July 30, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Lorain was swirling with rumors that Wal-Mart was the next big box store to move in beside the Kohl’s. “There is no deal,” a spokesman for the developer said, and Wal-Mart told the Journal, they were unaware of any specific proposal, but added: “We’re always looking for opportunities for growth and serving our customers.”
A Lorain official made it clear that the city was ready to say yes to Wal-Mart. “We would entertain any company, big or small, coming into our community depending on how the deal is structured. As long as we create a win-win scenario for the business and the city of Lorain, I’m for it,” said Lorain’s Service Director.
The Lorain City Council voted September 15, 2008 to approve a 200,000 s.f. superstore. Councilman Bret Schuster was the only one to vote against the plan. He raised concerns over the superstore’s impact on other city businesses. “Wal-Mart is not the best fit there,” he said. “It’ll probably cause Super K to close its doors, and who knows what other businesses will be affected?”
This week, a year and half after the Lorain vote, people in neighboring Elyria found out who else would be affected by the Lorain vote. The Midway Mall in Elyria will have a dead Wal-Mart discount store by this summer when the Lorain superstore opens.
The 13.785 acre site in Elyria is already listed for sale by Wal-Mart Realty. The store is only 18 years old — but at 120,036 s.f. (the size of 2 football fields) it is not likely to move any time soon.
Making matters more difficult — there is an empty Dillard’s department store (which was killed by competitors like Wal-Mart) in the same mall, an empty Michael’s craft store nearby, as well as a nearby dead Circuit City.
“We’ll have another big-box building that’s empty,” Elyria City Council President Forrest Bullocks, told the Chronicle-Telegram. “For that reason, I hate to see it close, but I’m not surprised because I knew it was just a matter of time once the Wal-Mart on the city’s southeast side opened, and Wal-Mart decided not to build that new store on Griswold Road.”
Elyria already has a Wal-Mart supercenter on Chestnut Commons Drive a couple of miles from the Midway Mall. Less than two years ago, Wal-Mart dropped plans to build a second superstore in Elyria.
Elyria Mayor Bill Grace is trying to put the best face on the proliferation of ‘ghost boxes’ in his community. He claims the lost sales from the closed Wal-Mart will just be shifted to the city’s Target store or the other Wal-Mart supercenter. But now the Mayor has a large mall that is dying on his watch.
“The effects will be relatively minor,” the Mayor told the Telegram. “Many of the businesses in and around the mall are doing relatively well. But we must keep in mind the retail economy will stay pretty stagnant or produce minimal new retail construction for at least the next five years. Locations that have space available for lease will see business before new retail locations are built elsewhere in the county.” An interesting theory — but one that Wal-Mart has just proven false.
One of the area’s newspapers, The Morning Journal, has also tried to put a good spin on this corporate leap-frogging.
The Journal mistakenly concluded that “Wal-Mart is bring several hundred jobs to Lorain.” Actually, almost every job is coming from Elyria — so the net change will be negligible. That’s because more jobs will be lost at area grocery stores. The employment bottom line will be a zero sum game for both Elyria and Lorain.
Elyria is clearly losing $100,000 in tax revenue from Wal-Mart. This makes Elyria the latest city to join the growing list of “communities that Wal-Mart killed twice” — once on the way in, and once on the way out.
Elyria is already talking about offering tax subsidies to anyone who moves to the Midway Mall. Maybe the offer of welfare will attract more national chain stores.
Readers are urged to call Elyria City Council President Forrest Bullocks at (440) 322-7370 with the following message: “Dear President Bullocks, Wal-Mart now has 12 dead stores in Ohio, counting the Elyria store in the Midway Mall, which is now listed for sale by Wal-Mart Realty.
The city should consider passing a surety bond ordinance that requires any retailer with a store greater than 100,000 s.f. leasable area to demolish their building if it sits for more than 12 months without an active retail use. A number of communities are taking this defensive action to spare their taxpayers of the cost of demolition years later.
Clearly Elyria and Lorain should be doing some regional land use planning, because currently these big chain stores are playing one city off the other — and squandering land in the process. Dead malls are not just a waste product of the free market system — they represent mindless sprawl and poor use of a limited natural resource.
I urge you to stop saying Yes to all these redundant stores, and instead come up with a land use plan that limits the size of big box stores, which amounts to nothing more than an elaborate game of musical chairs.
Elyria and Lorain will see no new jobs from all this leap frog development.”