Wal-Mart usually gets what it wants. Just ask the politicians in Mission, Lees Summit, Raytown and Roeland Park.
By Yael T. Abouhalkah
The Kansas City Star
In recent months, elected officials in the first three cities have approved plans by the giant retailer to build stores in their cities. Meanwhile, Roeland Park has found out it will lose its Wal-Mart when the company closes the existing one in that small city to move to Mission.
But in a stunning development, Wal-Mart late last week pulled out of its hard-fought plans to construct a neighborhood grocery store in the heart of Raytown.
The retailer said it would not go through with that proposal, which the Board of Aldermen had approved on a 6-4 vote after weeks of lengthy public meetings that had split the community.
Conversely, it was a big victory for the opponents of Wal-Mart. They contend the proposed store would be too large for the downtown area, undermine small businesses and not bring in the kind of jobs the city needs.
In addition, critics correctly pointed out Raytown was already giving a large public subsidy to Wal-Mart for a supercenter it built on Highway 350 several years ago. Plus, the retailer has yet another publicly subsidized supercenter about a mile north of Raytown in east Kansas City.
So why did Wal-Mart decide not to come, even after it had steamrolled opposition in Mission and in Lees Summit to get politicians approval to build supercenters in those cities?
The retailer has not yet publicly announced its reasoning for its move in Raytown, where it would not have received public incentives for the grocery store.
But opponents had refused to give up, stating they were raising money to fight the decision.
Plus, critics had succeeded in forcing city officials to put several limitations on what kind of store Wal-Mart could build and how long it could be open. Those decisions might have changed the economic dynamics of operating the store there.
The victory is not a total one, of course.
Wal-Mart could revive its plans, something that was hinted at by the citys spokeswoman last week when the decision was announced.
Plus, many Raytown residents had wanted Wal-Mart to come, so they are disappointed that the green area in the citys downtown wont be redeveloped. City officials also had said they expected to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxes from the grocery.
Finally, if the Wal-Mart pullout stands, its extremely important that the supporters of Raytown rally together along with city officials to rev up the campaign to rejuvenate the downtown area without Wal-Mart.
That means continuing efforts to bring in smaller businesses, something many people want in Raytown, to give it more of a feeling like that enjoyed in downtown Lees Summit and Overland Park.