On Tuesday, June 26th several hundred neighbors attended the Colorado Boulevard Health Care District meeting to discuss the proposed Walmart. After a short presentation on the history of the site, the developer, Jeff Fuqua, discussed the site and showed renderings of what the development would look like. Fuqua didn’t talk about any new tenants as they are still in discussions, but he did confirm that Walmart was interested in the site.
Fuqua has not closed on the property, and as he does more investigation on the site, he is finding the costs of development is going to be much higher than expected and the only way for deal to work is to have Walmart as an anchor on the site.
He said that if Walmart does not come to the site, it will not happen and they will have to walk away. At this point the only thing set in stone is the addition of the through streets and some design guidelines set forth by the city.
Josh Phair, a spokesperson for Walmart, showed a few slides about what a good a neighbor Walmart will be and how much good they do for their employees and the community. Some of the facts about the store that came out: ·
- The Walmart will be a smaller store around 110,000 square foot vs. a traditional 220,000 square foot.
- The store will have underground parking with escalators to enter the store.
- The store will not sell tires, garden supplies or have a drive thru pharmacy.
- The store will sell 3.2 beer, but not wine or spirits.
- The store is not planning on selling guns at this time.
Some comments from Phair, while certainly interesting, were based on promises with no written documents to hold him to his statements. He mentioned the store would be more upscale and designed to fit the neighborhood and would be clean and well maintained. When pressed on these topics, he could not provide any evidence that his promises would be enforced. When asked to see examples of what this store would look like inside, he did not show any examples.
The meeting was turned over to a lively Question and Answer session that lasted almost two hours. While the crowd was mostly polite, there were several out busts of “No Walmart here” and “ We don’t want it”.
There was a tense moment when a community activist expressed his concern that many of the questions and comments were “buzz words” and “code words” for racism. The crowd quickly dispelled that concern.
The majority of questions were about corporate ethics, traffic concerns, and design issues. The overwhelming theme was Walmart does not fit in the tenor of the neighborhood and that most residents would prefer smaller, independent retailers. The presenters did not really address these comments and occasional tried to make a small joke.
According to Fuqua, the main issue with the site and the reason for the need for a big box store is that the cost to clean up the site and add back the streets the fill in the street grid is very expensive and he needs TIF (Tax Increment Financing) from the city to help pay for remediation and redevelopment. There needs to be retailer who can generate enough tax revenue to make it a viable investment. He did say he had talked to many other retailers and they were not interested in the site to which someone in the audience shouted, “So, Walmart was your last choice?"
When questioned about the other retailers planned for the site, the developer was not forthcoming with the details, however when drilled if they were chains, he admitted that most of the restaurants had experience with other restaurants but would not use the word chains.
There will be three other “junior department stores” which he would not disclose, but sources who have seen the plans likened them to the defunct Mervyns, Linens N Things and other downmarket low end discount stores.
One audience members summed up the crowd’s feeling when she said she had been involved in the redevelopment meetings for many years, but this plan made her feel “betrayed.”
Another tense moment came when a spokesperson from CU Med Center talked about the expense of having to maintain the site and that they were losing money on the deal as well as spending $700,000 a year to maintain the site. He said if the site was not sold soon they would have to make decisions about the up keep of the property. He added since the property is technically owned by the state, they were not obliged to follow the rules of Denver. The crowd expressed their disinterest in the fact the Med Center made a bad deal and wanted the neighborhood to pay the price. He countered that because the neighbors would not let them expand, Aurora got the jobs and tax revenue.
After the three hour meeting was over, the neighbors left charged with emotion and most said they were ready to fight. Regardless of attendees’ opinions, the meeting was positive in that it gave everyone an opportunity to hear the details of the plan, to ask questions and come together in an effort to make our respective neighborhoods better.
There will be another meeting in July for those who couldn’t make Tuesday’s meeting. Watch this site for more info. For full sized slides of the proposed site plan visit: http://denvergov.com/Portals/76/documents/9+CO%20CBHD%20site%20plan.pdf
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