In his autobiography, Sam Walton wrote: “We saturated Missouri… In the Springfield, Missouri area, we had 40 stores within 100 miles… we just started repeating what worked, stamping out stores cookie-cutter style.” The Wal-Mart cookie-cutter in Missouri is still going strong. The latest saturation is in Bridgeton, Missouri. The 15,000 residents of Bridgeton are swimming in Wal-Marts. There are 19 Wal-Marts within 25 miles of Bridgeton, including a Wal-Mart less than 3 miles away in St. Ann, and 7 miles away in St. Charles, Missouri. But Wal-Mart — and a developer who married into the family — wants to squeeze in another one. Bridgeton is the oldest community in St. Louis County, and one of the oldest in the state of Missouri. It’s also a city that has been losing population. Compared to 1990, the population in Bridgeton has dropped 15%. But Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers says the city is on the way up. “Bridgeton is growing!” says the city’s website. “New commercial and residential developments are underway and more are following, particularly as the ‘370’ corridor blossoms.” According to the St. Louis Business Journal this week, the city is going to issue a request for redevelopment proposals within the next two weeks for some vacant properties formerly occupied by the retailer, Value City, which went out of business, and other tenants along St. Charles Rock Road. One of the most prolific Wal-Mart developers in the country, THF Realty has proposed a Wal-Mart supercenter on the Value City property. THF has already contracted to buy a portion of the property that is included in the redevelopment request. THF also spent $32 million in 2006 to develop a Lowe’s adjacent to the former Value City property. THF Realty of St. Louis, was founded in 1991. It owns 100 properties comprising more than 20 million square feet of leaseable area in 23 states. A concentration of THF properties exists in Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The company says its mission is to be the “best private developer in America.” The Chairman of THF is Stan Kroenke, a co-owner of the St. Louis Rams, and owner of the Denver Nuggets and the Denver Avalanche. Kroenke’s net worth is around $3 billion — double what it was in 2003. Building Wal-Marts is a family affair for Kroenke. He married into the Walton family. His wife Ann is the daughter of Sam Walton’s brother Bud, who died in 1995. Ann Walton Kroenke is one of the richest women in America, with an inheritance valued at $2.6 billion. Over the years, Kroenke and THF have been at the center of many controversial Wal-Mart developments in St. Peters, Columbia, High Ridge, Maplewood, and North St. Louis County, Missouri, as well as Glen Carbon, Illinois, Wheeling, West Virginia, and Buffalo, Minnesota. Mayor Bowers is thrilled to let another big box store ‘blossom’ in his tiny city, because he thinks he knows a good economic deal when he sees one.
THF Realty owns 18 malls in Missouri alone. One of the most controversial Kroenke projects was Mapplewood Commons, a 439,550 s.f. mall located just 10 minutes South of St. Louis along Interstate 64. The center is anchored by a Wal-Mart, a Sam’s Club and a Lowe’s. When this project was finalized, Maplewood’s Mayor at the time, Mark Langston, said he was “really pleased” that a Wal-Mart and Sam’s club were given the green light by voters in Maplewood, Missouri. What happened after the THF approval was unbelievable. THF began bulldozing an entire neighborhood of 150 homes! The Mayor’s cavalier response in the St. Louis Post Dispatch was: “We hate to lose these folks, but they’re getting a good price for their homes.” On top of that, TFH announced that it planned to expand its footprint beyond just the Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, to open a Lowe’s home improvement store. This required the razing of another 52 homes in a residential area, bringing the total homes destroyed up to more than 200. All these families were uprooted from their homes, so Stan Kroenke could add another mall to his list of “assets.” But the story was even more bizarre: This very deep pocketed developer then asked Missouri taxpayers to give THF corporate welfare to tear down the homes, in the form of Tax Incremental Financing (TIF). This is the company that boasts that “in our first 10 years we built more than 15 million square feet of retail and office space.” Readers are urged to contact Bridgeton Mayor Conrad Bowers by emailing the city’s Administrator at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Bowers, Your small city, with its declining population, already has 19 Wal-Marts within 25 miles of your city hall office. Your residents have plenty of discount stores to get their cheap Chinese products. The merchants who will be most affected by this superstore will be grocers like Schnuck’s or Royal Food. THF may have convinced you this is an economic development project — but its not. It’s just about shifting market share from existing merchants — including Wal-Mart’s own discount stores. Rather than create new jobs and new revenues, a Wal-Mart superstore will simply transfer sales from stores already in business. Sam Walton boasted that Wal-Mart had become ‘our own competition’ in Missouri. Wal-Mart and THF are counting on your economic illiteracy to promote this project as a ‘new jobs’ project. But there’s a reason why you’re now trying to fill the empty space where Value City used to be. THF brings no added value to Bridgeton, and if you don’t reject their bid, Bridgeton will find itself no better off financially after the superstore opens. It’s time to stop sprawling Bridgeton, and lead growth, instead of follow it. As one Mayor once said, ‘It’s not how big you grow that matters. It’s how you grow big.'”