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Wal-Mart proposal stirs debate


Rodolfo Gonzalez/MCT

Wal-Mart representatives are working with the Larsen Green Governing Board and On Broadway, Inc. to determine the viability of a new store in downtown Green Bay

James Taylor, News Editor
September 16, 2013
Filed under News

A controversial proposal from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to purchase land in the downtown business district has stirred emotions which has residents and UW-Green Bay students weighing the pros and cons of the possibility of a big-box chain retailer coming to downtown Green Bay.

Wal-Mart has a purchase option to acquire portions of land currently overseen by the Larsen Green governing board and On Broadway, Inc.

The parcel in question is approximately 16 acres of the old Larsen Canning Co. facility along Broadway and north of Kellogg Street. Larsen Green was purchased six years ago by OBI and numerous attempts to attract developers have not led to development of the site.

Interest from Wal-Mart to build on the Larsen Green site has already sparked heated debate throughout the business community and particularly among members of OBI. Despite the lack of an official public proposal by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. depicting the layout or extent of the proposed store, objections have been raised by downtown business owners, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmidt and even UWGB professors. Jon Shelton, UWGB democracy and justice studies professor, is concerned the addition of another Wal-Mart in downtown Green Bay would do more harm than good.

“Undoubtedly, Wal-Mart’s business model brings new jobs, but these jobs often come with a hidden price tag, costing at least as much as the benefits to the community,” Shelton said in an Sept. 3 opinion piece published in the Green Bay Press Gazette. “Citizens of Green Bay should be skeptical of what kind of investment Wal-Mart would really be making by opening another store here.”

Shortly after it became evident Wal-Mart had been in preliminary talks with the Larsen Green governing board and OBI, a group comprised of Broadway District business owners, known as Broadway Business Alliance, passed a vote of no confidence in the board of directors for OBI. Chris Naumann, OBI executive director, has declined to comment, however, OBI released an update on its official website.

“The Larsen Green Board has announced that, after more than six years of actively marketing its property to potential developers, it is in discussions with Wal-Mart about potentially developing the northern 16 acres of the Larsen Green property,” according to OBI’s online statement.

When OBI purchased the Larsen Green property, $3.5 million was guaranteed by the city of Green Bay. The loan extended by the city will mature in eight months. If OBI is unable to repay the debt, the Larsen Green parcel will be taken over by the city of Green Bay.

“We are determining their level of interest in developing the site and have advised Wal-Mart that any proposed development of the property would need to complement the existing landscape of the district and fill a need for the area,” according to OBI’s online statement.

If Wal-Mart does acquire the Larsen Green parcel, many obstacles remain before development of a new store could begin. A formal proposal would be submitted for approval by the Larsen Green Governing board.

Then the city of Green Bay’s planning commission would have to make changes to the Larsen Green parcel because of current zoning laws which prohibit anything other than mixed use retail, office, public use or residential construction.

Wal-Mart representatives have promised to hold public forums to discuss the proposed store and to receive public feedback. OBI officials have asked the public to wait until a formal proposal is on the record before passing judgment on the proposed store.

“We are asking that people reserve their judgment until we have something concrete to consider,” according to OBI’s online statement.

Although time is running short, and no other businesses have expressed serious interest in the Larsen Green site, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt is concerned what a big-box retailer would mean for the eclectic nature of Broadway District.

“I think because of their financial pressures, they are going a direction that I don’t think is good for the long, long term,” Schmitt said in an interview with FOX 11 TV. “To sell out to a big-box, I just don’t think that’s the answer.”

Regardless of how the venture turns out, OBI representatives have asked the public to withhold judgment until more is known about the proposed Wal-Mart store and how it would affect the Broadway District.