September 5, 2013

KC district rejects Wal-Mart plan for Bingham school site in Waldo

Most people in a crowd of 150 cheered the Kansas City school district’s decision, announced in a town hall meeting at Southwest Early College Campus. Several nearby homes associations opposed the neighborhood market, fearing traffic problems and the loss of open space. The district will raze the school.

There will be no Wal-Mart in Waldo.

Most people in a crowd of 150 cheered the Kansas City school district’s decision, announced in a town hall meeting Thursday night at Southwest Early College Campus.

The prevailing sentiment of the community, the Kansas City school board decided, was that Bingham Middle School at 7618 Wyandotte St. should not be razed for a Wal-Mart, not even one of its smaller neighborhood markets.

Instead, the district will add Bingham to the short list of schools that the district intends to demolish. The district’s repurposing office will resume its work with the community to determine the next use for the property, with all options back on the table.

“We have to make some tough decisions, but the one factor we put over any other is the will of the community. There was overwhelming consensus on this issue,” said Kansas City school board vice president Crispin Rea.

Not everyone was happy. Some speakers said they were disappointed that the district denied the neighborhood a grocery store and jobs.

Wal-Mart proposed knocking the building down and clearing space for a store and parking. It wanted to create an entry off Wornall Road at 77th Street. A pedestrian bridge was in the plans for the Trolley Track Trail along Wornall.

The plans also called for some green-space buffering along 77th and Wyandotte streets, including a youth soccer field.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia confirmed that the retailer had dropped its bid for the site.

“We are always looking for opportunities to better serve our Kansas City customers,” she said. “We continue to evaluate potential growth opportunities in the area, which at this time no longer includes the former Bingham school property.”

Many came to the meeting prepared with statements against a sale to Wal-Mart, only to set them aside at Rea’s announcement.

“It was a real nice surprise,” Waldo resident Tammy Moore said. She did not believe the store would fit well in what she called “a residential … walking community.”

Several of the nearby homes associations opposed the development, fearing traffic problems and the loss of some of the open space and playing fields used by neighborhood children and school sports teams.

The Waldo Business Association and the Waldo Community Improvement District, though not specifically supporting a Wal-Mart store, have urged the district to sell the property for commercial retail development.

One Waldo resident said she thought the school board made a mistake. She noted some racial and social-class-tinged comments that had surfaced on websites against a Waldo Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart could have been an asset,” she said, “with access on two bus lines to jobs and groceries. I am very disappointed that you caved (to the community pressure),” she told the board members.

The decision against Wal-Mart will come at a cost to the district. Bingham joins Chick, McCoy and Thacher schools as buildings to be demolished. In Bingham’s case, the cost of demolition could be recouped with a higher sale price if the property is sold for commercial development.

The district will also have to continue maintaining the property.

In the more than 21/2 years of the district’s

repurposing intiative

, Bingham had become its most hotly debated property. Its location in the crease between Waldo’s thriving business district and a surrounding neighborhood of homes opened a full range of possibilities for future use.

Its marketability, and a chance to put the property on the tax roll, encouraged retail possibilities. Originally the district brought forward a proposal for a Hen House grocery store.

Hen House, however, backed out. So the district brought forward the other viable retail plan on the table — Wal-Mart’s.

Neighborhood groups that had shown little or only emerging concern about the Hen House plan came out in full force to hear — and mostly oppose — the Wal-Mart proposal.

“It was the most aggressively attended public process we’ve had so far,” school board president Airick Leonard West said.

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