How much is the future of Fort Collins, CO worth? So far, Wal-Mart has pumped nearly $80,000 into a referendum campaign that will culminate with a citywide vote on April 6th. The ballot question was placed before voters by an unhappy developer who could not accept “no” from the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Despite the fact that Fort Collins already has a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club, the developer decided to put a 375,000 s.f. shopping mall at the corner of Mulberry and Lemay Crossings, including a 192,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. The Fort Collins City Plan calls for smaller shopping centers spread throughout the community, but Wal-Mart likes to plan big. The developer even promised to make nearly $3 million in road improvements (mainly to enhance access to his mall), and provide a shuttle bus to the Old Town (who would bother to ride it loaded with shopping bags?). An astro-roots group of “citizens”, calling themselves “Citizens for Good Planning” has been the recipient of all Wal-Mart funding in the campaign. The group excused the fact that it had no funds from local residents with the following rationale: “We feel this is a business endeavor, and that the business involved should make the expenditures to let people of Fort Collins know the true story.” On the other side of the issue, the Citizens Against Regional Supercenter (CARS), which obviously doesn’t have a deep-pocket business like Wal-Mart for a sugar daddy,has only raised $3,250. Residents against the project complain that the huge complex is too large in scale for the area, will threaten pedestrian safety, overwhelm the carrying capacity of local bridges and roads, damage a flood plain, and threaten water quality in the nearby Poudre River. The construction of retail encompassing eight football fields worth of selling space, has provoked a strong response in Fort Collins. When the P&Z Commission voted against the project, they said: “the additional traffic generated by theland uses within the project cannot be incorporated into the neighborhood and community transportation network without creating safety problems.”
Final Wal-Mart spending on this ballot question will not be known for several weeks after the election, when final campaign expenditure numbers are due. But the developer and Wal-Mart literally hope to take this election right to the bank. In this new age of corporate democracy, businesses are permitted to overwhelm the democractic process with money. The Citizens for Good Planning have the Good Budget, while the CARS group has raised very little. Is this a ballot question, or simply a business deal for sale to the highest bidder? City officials may well want to consider a ballot question changing the name of the city to Fort Wal-Mart. Certainly the Citizens for Good Planning could rally behind that one.