Opinion Piece: Walmart and development in the Triangle


by John Kiljan

Dear CLRC members and friends,

Personally, I don’t like to write opinion pieces for the neighborhood association.  I’m usually happier just passing out the information that comes my way, making a few observations, and then letting our association members decide for themselves what positions they want to take.  People don’t need me to tell them what they should be thinking.

Bicycles at the new Lakeside Walmart

Bicycles at the new Lakeside Walmart

But the Walmart proposal to locate in the Arvada Plaza part of the Triangle is a little different.  There’s a lot at stake:  jobs will be lost and jobs will be gained, some businesses we’ve known for years will move out and others will be replacing them, if the City decides to say no to Walmart there may not be another redevelopment offer and the Triangle may remain in its blighted state for many years to come.  If the City makes the wrong decisions, it will be those of us living near the central part of Ralston Road who will suffer the most.

CLRC member T.O. Owens has been trying to line up pro-and-con interviews for our readers and we hope to have those written up before the issue reaches the City Council for a vote in July.   In the meantime, I thought our readers would like to see this email exchange between community activist, Cindi Kreutzer and myself and as way to get that discussion started.

Cindi is a longtime area resident and is an active contributor to the Facebook page called “Stop Arvada Walmart”.  She has kindly agreed to let her email be published on this website.  My response follows her email.

* * *

— On Mon, 5/20/13, cindikreutzer <cindikreutzer@comcast.net>
wrote:

From: cindikreutzer <cindikreutzer@comcast.net>
Subject: Walmart
To: jpkiljan@yahoo.com
Date: Monday, May 20, 2013, 4:09 PM

No to Walmart

No to Walmart

I just happened upon your January 2013 article and couldn’t help but wonder “what the heck are you thinking”?  I’ve done quite a bit of research of my own and found that many of the points you made could only have come from the city, IRG or Walmart!  To say that a Walmart store will be an improvement is just ridiculous. The traffic impact of 5,000 vehicle trips per day will be significant. There will be an increased crime rate and resulting increase in police costs. Several small businesses will be negatively affected and Walmart will take their money back to Bentonville. There are many, many other reasons to oppose this so-called redevelopment. As a resident living one block away from Arvada Plaza, I’d love to see a change but Walmart just isn’t the answer.

Instead of getting all of your data from the city and Walmart, try a few other resources: forrespect.org or makingchangeatwalmart.org or try reading the PDP and Traffic Report with a little objectivity. You might even review the original Ralston corridor plan and see how well a Walmart would fit into that. I doubt there will be a lot of walking paths, park benches, trees or grass in the massive parking lot. Do you have any idea how many Walmart stores there are already within five miles of Arvada Plaza? Look at the Walmart store locator.

If you don’t like the way Arvada Plaza looks, ask IRG why in six years they haven’t done one single thing to make it look better themselves. They are the “landlord” after all.

Cindi Kreutzer
cindikreutzer@comcast.net

* * *
Hello Cindi,

Neighborhood 'Wecome Walmart' sign

Neighborhood ‘Wecome Walmart’ sign

Thank you for writing.  I enjoyed reading your comments.  And I see we have a lot in common.  We are both concerned for what’s best for our neighborhoods and what’s best for Arvada.  And, we both seem to be supporters of at least some development in the Triangle.

Since writing the January CLRC article you mentioned — and the shorter Walmart summaries that followed — I’ve gotten a number of people asking me about Walmart and development in the Triangle.  Our http://www.RalstonCommunity.org website has a search feature where you can drop the words ‘Walmart’ or ‘Triangle’ in and catch any other articles in our archives you may have missed.

The direct link to the article you mentioned is

https://ralstoncommunity.org/2013/01/09/finally-the-triangle-gets-a-redevelopment-offer-walmart-proposes-a-supercenter-neighborhood-rec-centerpool-gets-a-boost/

It’s hard to tell for sure with the blog distributors we use, but I’m told the neighborhood association’s online news articles and neighborhood updates typically get about 200 individual readers for each publication.  Because of the interest, the January Walmart article got twice the usual number of individual readers. 

You raised a number of points and I want to address as many as I can since you took the time to write.  So, let me switch to a quote-and-comment format to better do that.

“. . . many of the points you made could only have come from the city, IRG or Walmart!”

You are absolutely correct.  T.O. Owens (who helped me put together the January article) and I have contacted the Arvada City Staff, current and former City Council members, the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority and Walmart’s public relations representatives.   And, we’ve done a lot of online research as well. 

Except for a brief conversation at their January open house, the only organization I did not talk to is IRG itself.  However, both T.O. and I have been following IRG (and its associated companies) online since we first heard about its ownership and option rights in the Triangle in about 2007.  Personally, I find IRG’s business model in respect to environmental issues, risk transfer to public agencies, and public relations strategies to be worrying.  However, I cannot argue with the successes that they’ve had in clearing away urban brownfields.  America’s mid-west rustbelt looks a lot better because of the IRG companies’ investments. 

“To say that a Walmart store will be an improvement is just ridiculous.”

I believe that just the opposite is true.  I’ve watched this shopping center decline for more than three decades.  I’ve seen the damage that decline has done to our neighborhoods, to our property values, to entertainment and recreational opportunities for our children — to everything that makes central Arvada a place where new families would want buy a home and raise a family.

Improving the Triangle is indeed a low standard — just about any decent business coming in would be an improvement.  The real question is not whether Walmart will be an improvement, but whether Walmart is the best our community can get for its urban renewal investment. 

“The traffic impact of 5,000 vehicle trips per day will be significant.”

Except for Independence Street and the users of 57th Avenue trying to clear the intersection with Independence, I’m confident it will not be significant.  The traffic data just don’t show that.  The central Ralston Road corridor lost a lot of its vehicle trips when 72nd Avenue opened up and the traffic counts don’t seem to have yet gone back to their former levels. 

Something does need to be done about traffic on Independence Street, however.  I’m disappointed that this Preliminary Development Plan does not address that issue.

Remember that additional traffic is not bad when the roads can easily handle it — that’s why we built those roads in the first place.  That new traffic will be supporting our businesses, providing local jobs, and bringing in new sales tax revenue that can help further develop other parts of the Triangle.

“There will be an increased crime rate and resulting increase in police costs.”

Looking at the other Walmarts in area, I’m expecting a decrease in crime.  The police are pretty busy in the Triangle as it is.  I find it depressing when I see young adults sitting, handcuffed, in the back of patrol cars outside of our grocery stores and other local businesses in this rundown shopping center.  Unlike other Triangle businesses, Walmart usually provides security patrols for its lots and only calls on the police for backup or an arrest. 

Having an extra set of eyes watching out for security problems appeals to me a lot.  Ask any passing-through RV camper which parking lot they’d most like to stop at overnight for a few hours of rest, and the answer will always be ‘Wally World.’  And Walmart’s security is usually willing to accommodate them knowing that they will probably drop in to pick up few items before leaving in the morning. 

“Several small businesses will be negatively affected . . .”

I agree.  If Walmart’s application is successful, the Plaza will lose small family restaurants, take-out fast-food places, driver’s training, indoor sports, sports bars, social clubs, small repair shops and the like.  We will also lose about an equal number of empty store fronts that no businesses are willing to lease.

I love the businesses that have hung in with us over the years, but they are all small revenue and job producers, and a shadow of what the Arvada Plaza was in the 60’s — and what the Triangle is capable of being today.

For me, apart from a few mom-and-pop stores, the biggest loss will be Ace Hardware and possibly AutoZone and U.S. Bank if they decide to go too.  That’s why I am pleased to see the City-sponsored Arvada Economic Development Association (AEDA) planning to offer both financial and organizational assistance to the affected Plaza businesses to relocate elsewhere — both inside and outside of the Triangle.  We at least owe them that for staying with us over the years. 

“. . . Walmart will take their money back to Bentonville.”

As they should.  There, their profits will be redistributed to their shareholders in the form of dividends, stock buybacks, investment in new outlets in the USA and overseas, and an increase in the value of their stock if the company does well. 

As to the aging Walton family members who own nearly half the value of the company — they can’t take it with them when they go.  Many of them have already done an admirable job of leaving their wealth to charities – often local charities where their stores are located.  And, unless they give that wealth away before they go, America’s estate tax laws (aka death taxes) will do a pretty good job of ensuring that they will only be able to leave an increasingly small share of their wealth to their descendants as each generation passes.

“There are many, many other reasons to oppose this so-called redevelopment.”

For me, the many other arguments I’ve heard for barring Walmart from the Triangle seem to be a little thin — to put it kindly.  For example, saying that Walmart shouldn’t be allowed to build here because there are already too many of their stores. 

Please be reasonable.  It’s not our property.  It belongs to someone else.  Personally, I think we already have more than enough tire shops, banks, auto repair businesses, check-cashing places, second-hand and fast-food restaurants for the good of the neighborhoods.  But we live in a competitive market economy and most of us wouldn’t think of opposing another one of those businesses from coming into the Triangle if they thought they could fairly compete.

There is one valid argument, however:  development subsidies.  How big a check are we writing to Walmart to move into the Triangle?  And how much additional tax revenue will Walmart be generating to offset that subsidy?  No one yet seems to know the answers those questions – probably not even Walmart. 

And I’m still digging to try [to get] the answer to that question myself.  I’m hoping to get some sort of answer before this issue lands in front of the Arvada City Council this summer. 

Obviously some sort of subsidy is going to be needed to raze those old asbestos-contaminated building in the Plaza and to do some of the street improvements needed to handle the new traffic and brighten up the appearance of what will effectively be an entryway to a renewed Central Arvada from the Kipling Parkway. 

But we’d do that for any other anchor business.  No developer in their right mind will pay to do those kinds things if they can instead develop on a ‘green field’ on the edge of the suburbs without any clean-up or secondary development costs assessed against them.

Anti-Walmart websites cite as much as $20 million in tax subsidies handed to Walmart at other locations in the metro area.  Yes, that’s too much!  If Arvada’s going to be cutting $20 million in checks to Walmart for this development, you are probably going to see a ‘No Walmart in Arvada Plaza’ sign (or something worse) on my lawn as well. 

But when I try to track down those supposedly well-referenced reports, I can’t find anything verifiable.  So I’m still looking and I’ll write about that here when I can. 

“Instead of getting all of your data from the city and Walmart, try a few other resources: forrespect.org or makingchangeatwalmart.org . . . “

I have to admit, I’ve missed forrespect.org , but I have spent some time reviewing other anti-Walmart websites.  Actually, quite a lot of time. 

“. . . or try reading the PDP and Traffic Report with a little objectivity.”

I’m a civil engineer with a background in transportation and construction and I’m well qualified to objectively read and review site plans and interpret traffic reports.  I’ve also invested more than a little time in looking at these two reports. 

“You might even review the original Ralston corridor plan and see how well a Walmart would fit into that . . .”

Yep, I’ve read that too — and the lengthy appendices as well, and more than once — and I’ve commented on them extensively to the City.  You can find some of those comments by searching the http://www.RalstonCommunity.org archives.

In a nutshell, I believe the lane in front of the Arvada Plaza needs to be widened by at least two feet for safety reasons, and preferably by four feet if Walmart builds there.  Currently, the City’s plans are only conceding the need to widen that lane by one foot, and delivery trucks will still have to drive in the gutter to fit on that lane. 

That’s not right.  That small section of Ralston Road should serve as a template for the rest of Ralston Road going east as it is rebuilt over the coming years.  Now is the time to do that – not after Walmart’s PDP has literally set those skinny lane widths in concrete.

“I doubt there will be a lot of walking paths, park benches, trees or grass in the massive parking lot.”

I don’t.  You can put all the park benches you want in a Walmart parking lot and no one will go there to read a book and enjoy the wildlife, but they will have some pretty decent sidewalk access in and through their lot and along Ralston Road.  Yes, I’ve looked at the developer’s PDP landscaping plans.

And I have trudged over to AURA to look at their preliminary ‘streetscaping’ plans for Ralston Road from Garrison to Kipling apart from any Walmart contributions.  AURA and the City are prepared to invest some serious money in improving the landscaping, walkability and vitality of this section of Ralston Road.  Whether Walmart will get to be the Arvada Plaza anchor or not, that kind of improvement is sorely needed if Arvada is going restore this neighborhood. 

Right now, it’s looking like that part of Ralston Road is going to look a lot better than what Target has on Kipling Street.

“Do you have any idea how many Walmart stores there are already within five miles of Arvada Plaza? Look at the Walmart store locator.”

I don’t need to look at the locator.  I’ve been to them all.  Sorry, but I’m not a big Walmart fan.  Typically, in three out of four visits, I leave Walmart empty handed.  Usually, I only go there during the holidays after I’ve first visited my favorite retail outlets looking for Christmas gifts and can’t think of anywhere else to go. 

The new Harlan Street Walmart is an exception.  I went there a few weeks after it opened up and I visited a couple of nearby retailers as well.  I got the blood pressure testing machine for my hypertensive brother at Walmart for about half the cost of the one selling at Target that was out of stock. 

But, I especially wanted to see how good their grocery section looked and to see how their ceiling lighting and natural lighting were set up.  The harsh ceiling lighting at 72nd and Sheridan drives me nuts.  (Did I mention I was a civil engineer?). 

My first impression:  groceries were better than the Triangle’s Safeway, but on a par with the Kipling Street Target, and a step below the Triangle’s King Soopers with their excellent deli counter.  Oh, and I did like their lighting.  It was much less annoying and looked more energy efficient.  I even liked the polished concrete floors. 

When I asked a retailer on the other side of 44th Avenue how the new Walmart opening had affected his business, he just smiled and said, “It’s been very nice.” 

“If you don’t like the way Arvada Plaza looks, ask IRG why in six years they haven’t done one single thing to make it look better themselves.”

I don’t need to.  I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.  IRG’s business model looks like it is set up to solicit venture capital for major brownfields development.  They are not really interested in being in the landlord business — except to provide some operating income while waiting for some real development.  If the development venture works out, the investors get their money back with a commensurate return.  If not, those investors take their loss and move on. 

Yeah, that’s how bad the Triangle has gotten — properties usually not owned by the very business owners who have shops there, but owned instead by investment companies who hold the properties in trust for other investors who are only looking for an ongoing return on their investment and who don’t care very much about what happens to the rest of the neighborhood.

In my opinion, if we ever want to get out of this long cycle of urban decay, we need to do what we can to have the business owners be the property owners.  Walmart plans to buy their land from IRG.  That means a lot to me.  When that happens, Walmart will be as much a part of our community as Kmart, King Soopers, Target and Safeway are now.

I know this sounds like a pro-Walmart counterpoint, and if other community members have thoughts to add to our website, I’m more than willing to listen. But if readers find themselves being anti-Walmart simply because Walmart is Walmart and some sort of evil empire, I’m not going to be able to help them very much. 

Nor am I willing to say that the Walmart proposal is what’s right for our community.  But what I will say is that I have not yet heard or read anything that convinces me it’s not, and I do trust the judgement of our Planning Commission members and our City Council members.

Lastly, I want to thank you and the other contributors to ‘Stop Arvada Walmart’ for being concerned about our neighborhoods and how they are developed.  Whether or not we agree on the issues here, I really do appreciate those who take the time and interest to look out for the well being of our community.  Without people like you and others concerned about our neighborhoods, we would not have the community we need to make Arvada a better Arvada.

And on this Memorial Day, I hope all our readers thank and remember those who gave so much to make our lives prosperous and happy.

Sincerely,

John Kiljan

* * *

WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE
AURA has set up a pretty useful website with lots of information and links to the latest files and a Triangle planning video featuring CLRC member Eddie Lyons at

ArvadaTriangle.org

The site also has a “Notify Me” link to receive further notifications from the City.

The next public hearing will be before the Planning Commission on the evening of June 4, 2013.  The room is expected to be crowded.  Follow this link for more information:

http://arvada.org/about-arvada/public-hearings-on-arvada-plaza-redevelopment-project-how-to-participate

The Citizens for a Livable Ralston Community regularly posts neighborhood information on its website at http://www.ralstoncommunity.org/ as it becomes available. Or you can friend us on Facebook. Our Facebook name is “CLRC Arvada”.

John Kiljan, CLRC Notes: 303-423-9875 or jpkiljan@yahoo.com

May 27, 2013

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Opinion Piece: Walmart and development in the Triangle

  1. Maggi Mabey says:

    John, I really appreciate how informational and personal your response was. You sound like a neighbor. I know it is difficult to please the masses, and you made some excellent points. I wish we could find an achor store that would be a bit smaller and allow more businesses to exist in that some area. I know Walmart is successful and convienient,, but it seems that it would likely close the doors on Kmart, King Soopers, and Safeway, creating the same problem we have with The Plaza, on the other side of the street. Then what? Sincerely Maggi Mabey

  2. Kevon Storie says:

    John, You make some reasonable points, but I have to disagree with your assertion that retail saturation is not a good reason to keep Walmart out of the Arvada Plaza area. Has anyone wondered why the shopping center deteriorated in the first place? It is a relic of a time when people were less mobile and had fewer shopping choices, and stores were built on a smaller scale. Shoehorning any big box store into the space is simply a 1990’s answer to the 21st century problem of what to do with a ’60s shopping center. Municipalities can no longer count on an ever-rising tide of sales tax to fund services and infrastructure. The planning commission and AURA must think about the best long-term use for the Arvada Plaza, rather than committing the city to yet another retail space that will under-perform at best, and at worst become more of the same problem in the next decade.

  3. Stan Dyer says:

    That was a very civil, and well thought out response of a different, obviously biased, opinion. That’s fair enough. We can’t all be expected to see everything the same way, or to even understand all of the various aspects or intricacies. One important aspect, however, one the author here as well as others omit entirely is the contribution made to sustain the area by the businesses already in place – contributions that were made without incentives from the city, and for no other reason than to maintain and build their businesses. Contributions to the area that were made at the same time IRG did absolutely nothing to maintain, or improve it’s property, and did absolutely nothing to attract any business to the area. For their efforts, the good businesses are being rewarded not with incentives, but with increased competition from similar type businesses, and with the city instead giving incentives to a derelict landlord to help them attract more business. And, these incentives are not small. The city is giving IRG millions of dollars to extend Garrison Street when improving their lot. It is going to take a lot of sales creating a lot of sales tax revenue to make back all that money.

    More importantly, what kind of message does this send to other area businesses? Good businesses who maintain their properties, remodel, update, and improve, (King Soopers put in a gas station, for Heaven’s sake!), can expect nothing from the city, not even recognition for their efforts. They can, however, expect the city to help their struggling, inept, and unconcerned competitors achieve the financial success they, themselves were unwilling to propagate.

    Since everyone here seems to be offering opinions, consider these hypothetical situations. What if Safeway, King Soopers, and Kmart had all chosen to abandon the Triangle when it was going through its worst times? What if they followed the IRG business plan, and just allowed their properties to fall into disrepair with “pothole” asphalt, leaking roofs, and crumbling facades? Do you think Walmart would have come in there, and built a store so far off the beaten path? The author claims to have visited all area Walmart, he must have noticed that all are either on busy streets, at busy intersections, or very near the same. The Triangle Area, as admitted by the author, and the city, is not, and, if not for the work of these businesses to kept the area as vibrant as it is, Walmart would never have agreed to come in without an entire list of guarantees, even more than they already command.

    Another hypothetical situation has IRG actually being a responsible landlord, fixing the asphalt, fixing the roofs, throwing a coat of paint on everything, and actually “advertising” to attract business. What if they had actually done something, anything to help their tenants improve their business, and bring customers to the area? Belmar helps its tenants with special celebrations, special arrangements, and special festivals to attract business. What if IRG had done that? They could have held a farmers’ market, a car show, a city celebration, or something similar to help their clients instead of just letting the area fall into decay. What if they had done that? Do you think Walmart would be moving into the area? If they were, you can bet they’d be paying instead of being paid.

    This whole thing is a farce, a travesty, and a back stab perpetrated by the very people elected on the understanding that they would not behave in such a manner. I am embarrassed of my city government, and even more embarrassed of any of my neighbors who who cannot or will not see through this charade.

    • John Kiljan says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Stan.

      Just to make it clear, IRG is not pushing Garrison Street through to 57th Avenue in this proposal — nor is anyone giving them millions of dollars to do that. What IRG is being paid for and what they are required to do with that money — and whether or not it is a good deal for Arvada — is the subject of a recent post at http://www.RalstonCommunity.org .

      I’m sorry to have to continue your embarrassment for awhile, but, overall, those numbers look pretty good to me.

      –John Kiljan

  4. ladyeeyore7 says:

    Has anyone taken the time to see what the community can support in terms of big box stores? I know that K-Mart has been in that location for at least 30+ years, has remodeled both inside and outside including an internal expansion and is still struggling. If K-Mart is barely holding on then what makes anyone think that Walmart would do any better. We couldn’t even sustain a Safeway here. It isn’t a high traffic location and has low visibility due to the fact that it is far from a major intersection. While I concede it might do well in the beginning because it is a ‘new curiosity’ I can’t help but wonder how long it can sustain that draw. It would have no unique features or small town appeal to garner tourists attention. While I understand that the cost of revitalization would be more than AURA could manage on its own I also believe that once the light rail is in it should garner more attention for new urban development in the area. I also believe that there are developers out there who would be willing to build the multi-use development originally planned for the 3 shopping centers to draw some of the urbanist traffic that the light rail will bring to us. A developer built 5 Parks which is a similar concept. I think that this kind of urbanist shopping/living/working would be more appealing and more likely to draw customers, renters and travelers and be more sustainable with great tourist appeal. We’ve lived with the blighted shopping centers for this many years so what’s a couple more if we can get something more in line with the small town feel we all love and want to keep.

    • John Kiljan says:

      ladyeeyore7 asked, “Has anyone taken the time to see what the community can support in terms of big box stores?”

      I know two that have (and possibly three).

      Thanks for the comments, Jayme. I don’t usually see comments coming in more than a month after a posting, and this response may not see as many readers as responses to more recent CLRC postings. But, since you did take the time to write, I thought I’d make the effort.

      The two are Walmart itself and the City’s urban renewal authority, AURA. IRG may have also done that analysis or it might just be relying on Walmart’s analysis — I can’t tell. Almost all those numbers can be found in the latest City Council packet and on the ArvadaTriangle.org website. You have to do some simple math to come up with the gross sales figures, but everything else is pretty straightforward.

      AURA (and the City) expect a new Walmart to generate $50,000,000 a year in sales. That’s a lot. That’s an awful lot. And it’s almost entirely new sales. And, based upon what IRG’s own rebate projections are, both Walmart and IRG seem to be expecting even better Walmart sales than AURA does. That’s a pretty high expectation of support for a new store.

      And, remember, those gross sales estimates were probably made before Safeway announced it was pulling out of the Triangle. Walmart’s optimism may be well founded.

      For us as a neighborhood, those numbers mean that AURA expects Walmart to be generating an additional $1,730,000 a year in additional sales taxes and fees for the City of Arvada while only minimally increasing the need for services such as schools, libraries and fire protection — if at all.

      Where does that $1.73 million in new revenue go to? The planning documents are pretty clear: About $900,000 a year (52%) is expected to be used to pay off IRG for their eligible share in $9.1 million in required improvements to the Plaza and adjacent roads. About $230,000 a year (13%), goes to the Arvada Police Department to increase their law enforcement presence in the area. And the best part — the City is turning over $600,000 a year (35%) of that new revenue to AURA to redevelop the rest of the Triangle.

      With $600,000 a year coming in — and even more after IRG has been paid for its eligible improvements after 10.8 years — I am hoping that AURA will have the funding needed buy the vacated Safeway property, help redevelop the entire area and make these run-down shopping centers something Arvada and our neighborhoods can be proud of for a whole new generation residents.

      –John Kiljan

      PS — Since this is such and old post, here is the direct link to the article that includes all the posted comments:

      https://ralstoncommunity.org/2013/05/27/opinion-piece-walmart-and-development-in-the-triangle/

      –John

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s