It seems that we have a big day tomorrow in West Louisville history. West Louisville Talk will be holding a community conversation at Quinn Chapel AME Church at 6 pm tomorrow, January 27 to discuss the New Bridge Crossing and Walmart development at Broadway and 18th Streets.
According to Sheldon Shafer's article in the January 26 Louisville Courier-Journal, Walmart will not submit a revised plan for the West Broadway store, despite the recommendation from the Louisville Metro Planning Commission that they do so after a meeting last month. The corporation missed a January 23 deadline for presenting an amended layout for a Russell neighborhood superstore, despite the city's offer of several million dollars of construction incentives.
Tomorrow night's West Louisville Talk appears to be an eleventh-hour preview of a final decision – the Planning Commission will meet Thursday, January 29 starting at 1 p.m. It is an open public meeting, but there may not be room for citizen response.
After reviewing the articles in Monday's Courier-Journal, both from Shafer and a May 2014 editorial, Walmart literally are giving West Louisvillians a mixed message. They continue to assert that their December blueprint is the best that they can do to meet the city's ordinances, yet according to Jere Downs' C-J video article, a Walmart spokesperson states "negotiations have just begun." Which is it?
Walmart is a highly profitable corporation, but sales have stagnated in the suburban and rural areas where they have traditionally built. In the name of continual growth, the company seeks to expand its business by building into urban locales. Washington, DC and Knoxville, Tennessee are two locations where they have not built their traditional "big box," but designed buildings that match the architecture and design codes of these cities.
Why not Louisville? Do we think so little of the capacity of our people that to ask Walmart to honor our city's building and design codes are too much?
West Louisville is challenged economically and commercially. Walmart would be a first step in providing greater shopping convenience, low prices and choice to West Louisville residents. It is my belief that some of us are sometimes guilty of selling ourselves and our people short. Yes, some of us have challenges and jobs – even entry-level ones – are better than none at all. It is as if these people believe that we are not good enough or worthy enough to have standards, so we should accept anything – even if it is not the first offer, even if it is not a good offer – that is thrown West Louisville's way.
Walmart spokesperson Bill Wertz needs to prove that their unchanged plans, as designed, is "compatible with nearby development." If that were true, then why are the urban design waivers then necessary? At first glance, it appears to be another example of having your cake and eating it too. What it ultimately is, is Walmart corporate wishing to invest as little as possible in the build while taking advantage of a new market. Look, I get it: corporations exist to maximize profits and to provide a pattern of growth and profit for their shareholders.
That considered, we have our interests as well. The potential jobs (both in the construction of the property and the staffing of the superstore), shopping convenience and increased commercial traffic matter. Let me be clear: this is not a debate upon whether to build it or not. I would make an educated guess that for most West Louisville residents, it is about how the places and spaces where we live, learn and raise our children are improved over time. How we leave for them institutions that stand the test of time and are worth keeping. Let us not allow some generic box to be thrown up that could be abandoned in ten years or less, particularly after giving this corporation millions of our city's tax dollars.
Tuesday's Quinn Chapel meeting is big. It is an opportunity for West Louisville residents to present and articulate a "win-win" vision – one that will be profitable for Walmart and one that will reap lasting returns for West Louisville residents for decades to come. Come on out.