Sprawl-Mart; super sized?
Rob Brinkman
October 2003

It is sad but true, Wal-Mart feels the need to expand; the worst part is they picked the worst possible site in Gainesville. Showing its concern for the environment, Wal-Mart decided that the headwaters of Hogtown Creek, a site known as the Hartman property at NW 53rd Avenue and 441, was the only place they could build a super center. Both the City of Gainesville Plan Board and Gainesville City Commission voted their proposal down. Not willing to leave well enough alone, Commissioner Bryant changed his mind and reversed his vote at the next meeting. The city manager said this had never been done in a land use decision, but the Commission's rules do provide for it.

Recently, a groundswell of support has emerged to redevelop the former K-mart site in front of the Gainesville Mall on NW 13th Street, rather than risk the integrity of the headwaters of Hogtown Creek. While there are many negative aspects to the business practices of Wal-Mart and other big box retailers, there are some potentially positive aspects to keeping them in the 13th Street corridor. The area has been declining since the opening of the Oaks(less) Mall, Farmer's Furniture has recently announced the closing of their store, and Sam's Club plans to relocate to Archer Road and I-75 area. Without any large anchor stores, Goody's, Morrison's and others are likely to close due to lack of customers.

Furthermore, Hogtown Creek is being degraded by storm water runoff from this area, which flows directly into the creek without any treatment. Expanding the former K-mart building would allow for the creation of a one-story super center and provide an opportunity to build a storm water park to treat the runoff from the entire area and address the pollution plume currently impacting the creek from the nearby gas station.

Across the country, many communities are battlingWal-Mart's plans to invade their towns or expand in them. Some have even been successful, but Wal-Mart never gives up, they just keep coming back to try, try again. On Monday September 29th, as part of the CMC / Hippodrome documentary series, Store Wars: What Happens When Wal-Mart Comes To Town, will be presented in three showings at 5, 7,and 9 pm. Admission will be a sliding scale donation of up to $10.00.

Like many others, while I am opposed to the race to the bottom that Wal-Mart is leading, it is a complex situation. The filmmaker who made this case study of the town of Ashland's (Virginia) battle realized this as he made the film. He said, "I realized that you can't tell low-income people that they should reject the store that offers them low prices and jobs. If you're barely making ends meet, worrying about the long-terms effects on your community is a luxury you can't afford. The problem is much broader and deeper. It has to do with a system that allows millions of people in the richest country in the world to live below the poverty line." Indeed I can assure you that there are loads of people in this town who like Wal-Mart's prices and selection.

There will be an update of the situation here in Gainesville and a discussion of what the citizens, not Wal-Mart, want for our community. This is a chance to see, close up, what happened in Ashland, Virginia, and a chance to discuss what to do in our town.

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