Midtown Merely Another Conquest for Walmart

Walking through Midtown Miami, passing charming little shops, art galleries and street performers, gazing admiringly at some of the urban artwork emblazoned on the sides of buildings, a man with a vision thought to himself, “You know what this place is missing, what would really tie the whole thing together into one cohesive, identifying geographical package?”

“A Walmart!” he exclaimed, feeling almost as if God had knelt down and gently gave him a loving rap on the forehead. “An enormous, homogenized, area-devouring eyesore that would surely serve to counteract the cultural relevance of this area in one price-undercutting fell swoop! Nothing would benefit this community more than the implementation of slave wages and environmental irresponsibility!”

However doubtful it is that a person exists who would look at things in such a way, the fact remains that after almost two years of resistance, as of a few days ago, the City of Miami has approved a 156,000 square foot Walmart store to be implanted at 3055 N. Miami Avenue. According to City Planning Director Francisco Garcia, the megastore chain is expected to have an architectural design permit by Friday.

“Once we confirm that all those requirements are complied with, we will issue the permit,” he said.

Though Miami’s Urban Development review Board unanimously denied Walmart’s plans on February 20th of this year for failure to meet design standards, money continues to be the primary language when speaking politics and rules. Those rules are now being bent by the Planning Department and the multinational corporation has been granted a Special Class II permit, essentially allowing them to move forward with building plans despite a laundry list of issues, including the absence of N. Miami Ave. or Midtown Blvd. in Walmart’s plans, a mismatch between blocks – a gross violation of Midtown SD 27.2 design standards – as a result of the company’s current plans, and an intended redesign of NE 31st street that would make traversing the road hazardous for pedestrians.

Though some of these gripes are – from this author’s perspective – admittedly finicky, the fact remains that Walmart’s presence in the Midtown area inarguably clashes with the rest of its surroundings, effectively sucking the life out of the place or, as Miami native and real estate consultant turned outspoken Midtown champion Grant Stern has put it, “The bottom line is: if they put a Walmart in, the artists – the creative class type, those that have bought the neighborhood up and vote with their feet – will leave. It will not matter what minuscule economic benefit will bring to the area. It will be dead. Walmart will flatten the neighborhood.”

Undoubtedly, it was the prospect of new jobs and more business that courted our city planners, however that’s only while the company is showing you its face. What isn’t spoken about – what should be – is what occurs after they pack up and leave: local taxpayers and the city itself are left to clean up and demolish the husks of abandoned stores.

Walmart

Neal Peirce, in a strikingly poignant article, points to a website, deadmalls.com, which documents this growing trend of companies picking up and leaving when costs are less, in the long term, elsewhere.

“Big-lot superstores often abuse localities,” he said. “Dangling the possibility of jobs and commerce before local officials, they sometimes demand and get cut-rate land or outright public subsidies for coming to town. Then by virtue of their presence (and cut-rate prices), they force locally owned stores out of business and help undercut historic downtowns.”

He argues that, despite that being a gross injustice and misuse of free market capitalism by companies who have grown so large that Teddy Roosevelt’s head would explode upon seeing how things have become, the worst part is their “’walking away’ from their privately held parcels, forcing local governments and taxpayers to pay for removing the blight.”

Wondering why state governments across the nation haven’t enacted laws imposing a “closing tax” on enormous retail outlets, making them foot the bill for pulling out instead of the people who the act will already negatively impact? The companies would just vote with their feet, giving only the states that do not have those laws in place their business.

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

Over in Washington, DC, parallel problems are occurring with the company over the DC City Council’s proposed “living wage” bill that would make it so that every major employer in the area pay workers at least $12.50 an hour, an amount that resembles what the actual minimum wage should be once adjusted for inflation.

Walmart threatened to abandon plans on three of their six upcoming stores if the law, which they called “arbitrary and discriminatory,” passed. Within 24 hours, the bill was being shut down. Seven years prior, the company pulled a similar stunt in action against another living wage law being considered in Chicago and in March of this year, New York managed to raise the minimum wage at the cost of giving Walmart and other firms that hired seasonal employees tax subsidies.

The costs, aesthetically, culturally, environmentally and economically not being enough, companies like Walmart contribute to the already-existing strain on governmental programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance and government-paid school lunches according to a congressional report that found that the workforce of a single Walmart location consume approximately a million dollars in these kinds of benefits annually.

An appeal must be filed with the city within the next 10 days to overturn these recent developments, whereby the case will be heard by the Planning and Zoning board of Miami – the very same board that had initially rejected Walmart’s initially proposed plan. If you would like to help, go here first and sign the petition.

(Photos courtesy of viztv.com and logisticmonster.com)

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Jesse Scheckner

A freelance MMA, entertainment and business journo born, raised and residing in Miami, FL, Jesse Scheckner is a former semi-serious musician, cinephile and recovering ne’er-do-well who still believes Mickey Rourke’s finest performance in film has yet to come. He is TuffGnarl.com's editor-in-chief, a feature staff writer for MMASucka.com and the 2014 MMA Media Correspondent winner at the Florida MMA Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner to talk about the stuff he writes about with him.

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