Walmart tries to become a good neighbor

Published on: 5/17/2011

Greendale - In preparation for a key public hearing June 7, village staff is working with Walmart officials to fine tune details of the retailer's proposed smaller-scale operation on the site of the former Bowling Congress.

The discount retailer wants to open a Walmart Neighborhood Market on South 76th Street across from Southridge Mall.

Because of that behind-the-scenes work, the Plan Commission last week tabled the matter until next month following the hearing results.

"We have a team of five people, including our chief engineer, planner, building inspector attorney and myself," said Village Manager Todd Michaels. "Walmart is picking up any staff time costs that are incurred."

A smaller fit

The proposed 93,000-square-foot store is about half the size of a typical Walmart - a plan that the company has just begun introducing throughout the nation - and features retail, grocery and pharmacy. Michaels said certain details need attention to gain full public and trustee approval.

"The main concerns are how it's going to look and how it will affect neighboring businesses," Michael said, referring to Martin Luther High school to the north and Southridge Plaza to the south.

Most notable development details include construction of a retention pond at the rear of the property, the building appearance so that it blends in with the area commercial district and landscaping that will enhance the appearance of the property.

"There are many details, but those are the ones I would say are most important to the community," Michaels said.

General acceptance

He added the proposal hasn't been controversial to date.

"Public reaction from the beginning, including our open house last month, was minimal," Michaels said. "There have been a few negative comments, but when you consider that Greendale has almost 11,000 registered voters, it's been positive overall.

"Walmart has been cooperative in addressing any concerns that have been brought up. A lot of people have been telling us that they don't want to see the site remain vacant and they want us to do it right."

The village has also taken a pro-active approach to ensuring that the public is satisfied with the process of replacing the long-time headquarters of the United States Bowling Congress.

Revitalizing USBC site

At last week's Plan Commission meeting, Village President John Hermes shared a letter from USBC attorneys Michael Best and Friedrich LLP summarizing the history of the property's marketing after the USBC vacated it in 2009.

The letter said: "During 2008, USBC received letters of intent, offers or letters of inquiry from a national based retail developer and two local retail developers, and separate offers from each of two brokers interested in developing the property for development for themselves."

Among the possible site uses, the letter said, were local big-box retailers, grocery stores, health care facilities and a movie theater, none of which materialized. The letter characterized the Walmart development as "unique."

The public got its first glimpse of the proposal at last month's open house held at Greendale High School. There, Hermes supported the continued development of 76th street with a mix of retail options.

"That is a key to a successful business district," he said. "This proposal does not require any funds from the village and the project would generate, conservatively, $10 million in property taxes."

Hermes added that the Bowling Congress site had generated property taxes totaling $4 million.