The city of Sartell, Minnesota has roughly 14,300 people. The city claims it is “the place you’ve been looking for.” For Wal-Mart Realty, that’s certainly the case. The community is located in Central Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River. Sartell describes itself as “a great community… experiencing growth and advancement in economic development and technology.” The city is trying to promote its quality of life as an attraction for new businesses. “Sartell offers quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods, a growing business sector, an exceptional education system, top-notch health care facilities and opportunities to grow – an ideal place to work and live. In fact, Sartell is one of Minnesota’s fastest growing communities and for good reason.” Sartell is just minutes away from downtown St. Cloud and about an hour from the Twin Cities. As city leaders say, “Sartell provides a combination of small town character and big city opportunity.” The city has no downtown, for historical reasons. Sartell once had a “downtown” on the east side of the Mississippi along Highway 10. In the 1960’s Highway 10 was re-routed and greatly contributed to the demise of the downtown area. Then the construction of the new bridge over the Mississippi in the early 1980’s replaced the remaining businesses. Sartell’s relied on St. Cloud’s major retail center nearby, and as a result, the city never developed a traditional “downtown.” Today, Sartell residents have to drive 5 miles to the nearest Wal-Mart discount store in St. Cloud. For folks living in small town Minnesota, apparently a 5 mile trip to find cheap, Chinese products is just too much to ask. There are also four Wal-Mart supercenters within 40 miles of Sartell, but they might was well be in another country. So when Wal-Mart came knocking, city officials in Sartell gave the giant retailer the keys to the city. The city has approved a new combination Sam’s Club and Super Wal-Mart, which clearly will serve a much larger population than little Sartell. City officials made a deal with the giant retailer to underwrite the cost of a park and “eagle habitat.” On November 5, 2008, the Sartell Joint Planning Commission unanimously approved site plans for the Sam’s Club and Superstore, as part of a larger development called Epic Center, which sprawls over nearly 100 acres. The Wal-Mart will be 186,996 s.f. feet on 18 acres of land, with a parking lot to hold 808 cars. Add to that the Sam’s Club, which will be a 142,585-square-foot building on a 14-acre lot, with room for 639 cars. Toss in a Sam’s gas station and a car wash. The Epic Center along Highway 15, will be anchored by the Wal-Mart superstore. As a bone tossed to environmentalists, Wal-Mart will provide “pedestrian trails” as a link from the strip center to the outside area. All the buildings in Epic Center will have parapets and peaked or gabled roofs. The total building footprints will max out at 650,000 s.f., or roughly 11.5 football fields in size — just for the buildings. In return for permitting this suburban monstrosity, the city will get $293,639 towards the cost of a city park, plus $15,000 towards the cost of the Sartell Eagle Habitat Seed Fund. This whole “Epic” production will be “screened” from the surrounding community by berms, landscaping and green spaces, Wal-Mart says.
According to the St. Cloud Times, this huge double-headed project “sailed through the Sartell City Council” yesterday. The approved designs show a “heavily landscaped development” the newspaper said, with 35% of the land dedicated to green space, and “hundreds of trees and shrubs” to “mask loading docks and light.” Even the detention ponds — built for stormwater runoff, were described by the Times as providing “a scenic buffer.” The head of the city’s Planning and Community Development said the goal “was to gain as much green space as possible.” But once this 329,581 s.f. of combined Wal-Mart stores opens, the asphalt and concrete will overwhelm this small community. The newspaper cited no opposition to the plan, but focused instead on the “plenty of sidewalks and pedestrian trails” in the project, as if this strip center was some kind of wilderness project. Readers are urged to email Sartell Mayor Tim O’Driscoll at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor O’Driscoll, Congratulations on passage of the Epic Center — the Wal-Mart/Sam’s club colossus that was meant for St. Cloud — which has more than 4.5 times as many people as little Sartell. If Wal-Mart was building a store for Sartell, it would never have proposed two stores totaling 329,581 s.f. Without a lot of shoppers from St. Cloud, this project could never survive. The size of this development is truly “epic,” and will ensure that Sartell never has a traditional downtown again. The Epic Center, with its suburban sprawl, will become your retail center for at least the next twenty years — or until Wal-Mart packs up and leaves. Most of the sales at this new location will be ‘captured’ from existing merchants in the Sartell trade area, especially grocery stores like Cub Foods, Cash Wise — and even the existing Wal-Mart five miles away in St. Cloud. This is not economic development for Sartell, just an over-sized outlet for Chinese imports. It will go down in Sartell history an the “epic” of the city’s economic development blunders. You will get more traffic and crime, but that’s about all. The noise and the lights will drive the neighbors crazy. Perhaps you could have found a better way to build your park and eagle preserve.”