Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Wal-Mart eyes 5 S. Side sites for supercenters

Well, I could go back to the debate over the big-box ordinance. I could even go over Wal-Mart's plans to put health clinics in their stores. For a change, though, I want to look at some more recent developments from the Wal-Mart saga on the south side...
A pair of sites that once housed Ryerson Steel plants -- at 83rd and Stewart in Chatham and 111th and the Bishop Ford Expy. in Pullman -- could be first in line for new Wal-Marts, primarily because they appear to be the paths of least resistance.

The City Council rezoned the Chatham site in 2004 -- on a promise that Wal-Mart "is not and will not be" part of the development -- and all that's needed now is a sign-off by the Department of Planning and Development.

The Pullman site has support from Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who voted for the Daley-vetoed big-box minimum wage ordinance but believes Wal-Mart has "changed its tune" since then.

Wal-Mart is also looking to build at 47th and State, 63rd and Halsted and 63rd and State.

"If we get all the stars aligned, we might want to bundle the projects and move on all [five] at once. We could do two at a time or one at a time. The field is very open," said Roderick Scott, Wal-Mart's regional manager for community affairs.

"We're making an active effort to speak with [the local] aldermen. We can't move forward without them. If it is proven in the near future they're not interested -- maybe they don't want the controversy or they made commitments to restrict development -- we will look for opportunities in adjacent wards. We've been approached by [other] aldermen who are very interested."

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) said Wal-Mart "met with real estate people last week" and decided to forge ahead at 83rd and Stewart. That leaves the decision in the hands of city planners.

There's one other upside to this story...
Beale said he's prepared to convene hearings on the proposed Pullman Wal-Mart because "a lot of things have changed" since he voted for the big-box ordinance.
The General Assembly raised the state's minimum wage to $7.50 an hour. Wal-Mart has given women and minorities the opportunity to build and work at its Austin store. And the company has opened the door to talks with union leaders that could set the stage for a "living wage" ordinance.

"We have a food desert in our community," Beale said. "We're in desperate need of a quality grocery store. If Wal-Mart would commit to the site on 111th, that would give me two quality grocery stores and over 1,000 jobs."

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