Another Wal-Mart rises from another vacant lot. No big deal?
It is when the vacant lot has been blighted for decades and the Wal-Mart is going up in the underserved Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. — far from the speedway buzz of development in western Wyandotte County.
Take a former Superfund site, a tenacious community booster, an enthusiastic private developer and a corporate behemoth willing to make the deal, and you have “a fantastic story,” in the words of Doug Bach, the county administrator for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan.
At 41,000 square feet, the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is not a Supercenter, but it will sell groceries as well as merchandise, and it will employ as many as 95 people when it opens Sept. 10.
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It follows the opening of a Save-A-Lot grocery nearby in December, and it comes with the debut of a new bus route that will provide a vital link for the Argentine neighborhood.
In addition, there is a good possibility that a new South Patrol police station could be built soon on the same former Superfund site north of Metropolitan Avenue and west of the 18th Street Expressway.
The projects are proof that not all new developments in Kansas City, Kan., are west of Interstate 635.
“This is not the first (project) we’ve done in the eastern part of the city,” said Bach, pointing to a grocery and strip mall that now sits on the former site of an abandoned truck stop at Interstate 70 and the 18th Street Expressway, made possible by tax incentives.
Just as that 2008 project wasn’t exactly a snap to complete, the Wal-Mart project depended on a series of things coming together.
At one point, there was talk of a salvage yard opening on the former Kansas City Structural Steel site.
“But we had higher aspirations for ourselves,” said Ann Brandau-Murguia, a Unified Government commissioner and executive director of the nonprofit Argentine Neighborhood Development Association.
Brandau-Murguia, who can see the new Wal-Mart from her front yard, has played a key role in the turn of events. As she tells it, she buttonholed a Wal-Mart vice president at a convention of the National Council of La Raza and kept after him until the retailer agreed to consider the Argentine neighborhood.
When the steel plant shut down in the 1980s, the property was foreclosed, and the bank turned the title over to El Centro, a community services organization. But the site was contaminated with lead and, even after remediation as a Superfund site, efforts to redevelop it were disappointing.
Dollar General built a store a few years ago on the southeast corner of the site. Then came Save-A-Lot next door.
With Wal-Mart expressing interest, private developer Lane4 Property Group created a new company, Argentine Retail Developers Inc., to buy the land from El Centro and to build the store that Wal-Mart will lease.
“Lane4 has a long history of doing projects in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan., and we have a great relationship with the Unified Government,” said Hunter Harris, a principal at Lane4. “So we were excited to bring a high-quality retailer like Wal-Mart to serve what was long viewed as a food desert.”
The Unified Government got on board by creating a tax-increment financing district and a community improvement district to enable sales and property taxes generated by the new development to be used to help finance its construction.
“We’re really proud of our partnership that allowed redevelopment of the site,” said Delia Garcia, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. “This is about making it more convenient for our customers in this neighborhood by giving them access to fresh, affordable groceries and also a broad selection of merchandise for their families.”
Another convenience to Argentine residents is the start on June 30 of a new bus line, Route 105, that will provide an hourly connection, Monday through Saturday, to the Rosedale neighborhood and the area around the University of Kansas Medical Center. Previously, Argentine residents had to ride to downtown Kansas City, Kan., and switch buses.
“It’s a much-needed connection for the people of Argentine,” said Justus Welker, the interim deputy transit director for the Unified Government.
There may be more good news. The Argentine Neighborhood Development Association this spring donated $675,000 to the Unified Government, including 6 acres at the eastern end of the old Superfund site, with the idea that a new police station can be built there.
The donation was necessary because Brandau-Murguia’s organization could not accept money from the Unified Government since she sits on the commission.
The South Patrol currently works out of a former house on 34th Street.
“We’ve been looking for an opportunity to upgrade,” said Bach, the county administrator.
He said it may be possible to leverage the tax incentives for the Wal-Mart project to accelerate the police station project.
“I think there’s a good opportunity for us, but I’m not in a position to make a recommendation to my government body,” Bach said. “We’re working through the numbers to see whether this makes good fiscal sense for the UG to advance now.”
Other recent developments in eastern Kansas City, Kan.:
Loretto Commercial Properties has a plan to renovate two buildings downtown at 730 and 736 Minnesota Ave.
39Rainbow is a $40 million mixed-use project by Lane4 Property Group across Rainbow Boulevard from the University of Kansas Medical Center.
The medical center plans a new $75 million education building on the northeast corner of 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard, and the hospital plans a new $250 million patient-care tower northwest of 39th Street and State Line Road.
A hiring center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 2414 S. 34th St. Applicants can also go online at jobs.walmart.com.