The Saginaw News reported on August 15th that officials in Frankenmuth, Michigan, which celebrates its Bavarian heritage as a theme throughout the community, are being wooed by Wal-Mart with the promise of a unique Bavarian-style facade for their supercenter. Frankenmuth has less than 7,000 people. Ann-Arbor-based Atwell-Hicks Development Consultants is considering building a more than 100,000-square-foot store in Frankenmuth Township. Chief Engineer Nick Miller told the newspaper that Wal-Mart would consider adopting a “Bavarian theme” for the store. City officials are also considering more intelligent proposals to put a moratorium on big-box development in the area and prohibiting 24-hour retail operation. At least half of the land Wal-Mart wants must first be rezoned from residential to commercial, so the town is in a strong position to just turn down the rezoning request, which is not a mandate. But Frankenmuth officials are studying the town of Pella, Iowa, where Wal-Mart offered a “Netherlander architectural design, including burgundy and cream shutters, a green sign, trees, extended sidewalks and a Dutch gable over the entrance.” But a citizen’s group, Frankenmuth First, sees through Wal-Mart’s facade, and has offered to raise money for the city to study the store’s economic impact. On Aug. 23rd, the Frankenmuth Planning Commission will discuss whether to take the Bavarian Cr??me Wal-Mart, or simply deny the rezoning.
Much has been written about big box architectural design — and most of it is skin deep. Whether the Frankenmuth store is Bavarian, Korean, or Chocolate — the facade will not change the economic impact, or the traffic congestion, or the adverse effects on nearby residential property. What’s next? A Kosher Wal-Mart for Brooklyn? A Cheese-theme for Wisconsin? An Alligator Skin for Florida? When Wal-Mart promised an “Adirondack” theme in Lake Placid, New York, the residents just said No. Developers always tell local residents that their store will be “unique”, the only one of its kind in the country. The idea that any community would accept the negative impacts of a Wal-Mart on the unique character of their town by the style of facade they use, is simply absurd. This will transform Frankenmuth into Frankenstein. This tiny town has no store anywhere near the scale of the proposed Wal-Mart. They have an easy path to reject it, because the zoning is not correct. They would be much better off to give the whole project a Bavarian send-off.