Monday, October 28, 2013

A Very Narrow Vision

With Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt doing his best to scare WalMart away from building a store on Broadway Street it rekindles the debate over what should be a priority in "downtown revitalization"--one man's "vision" for an area--or the needs of the people living there.  Schmitt is on record as saying a big box retailer at the site of the former Larsen Cannery isn't what he "envisions" for that property.  He would like WalMart to consider sites sort of in that same area--but just not along the street that he likely considers his "legacy" as Mayor.

Being familiar with the area surrounding the Broadway District in Green Bay, I would describe it as lower to moderate-income at best.  It is also described as a "food desert" by advocacy groups--meaning there are few if any low-cost supermarkets or grocery stores in that area providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables or meats.  It is also an area that major retail chains have abandoned for the areas along the major highways circling the city.

So a WalMart on Broadway would bring a lower-cost grocery outlet--along with a place to buy cheaper school supplies, kids clothes, diapers and pharmaceuticals.  Not to mention, hundreds of jobs--which are also in short-supply in that area.  Are they career-building jobs?  No.  But shouldn't we be encouraging people to earn whatever paychecks they can rather than sitting around and collecting from eight different entitlement programs?

If Mayor Schmitt doesn't like how a WalMart is going to look on "his Broadway", what are the alternatives that he thinks will come in and provide the same benefits to the surrounding community?  Does he want upscale condos with riverviews on the site--filled with tenants who will drive out of the area to do all of their shopping?  Does he want a "senior living community" with controlled rents that provide little economic impact to the surrounding area?  Is he going to fall back on the old standby "mixed use"--with more boutique shops that employee three people and a food co-op with higher prices that won't serve the thousands of folks living just a few blocks away?  And where are the developers bringing their proposals to the table right now?  Perhaps Mayor Schmitt would like to hear the story of the "Old Maid" who drove off suitor after suitor in the belief that someone (or in this case, something better) was about to come along.

It's a dangerous form of myopia when government officials imagine what a single street should look like--and forget the potential impact on fifty other streets surrounding it.

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