Residents shouted down Walmart officials during Wednesday’s 90-minute neighborhood meeting, forcing them at one point to ask to be allowed to continue.
The company presented plans to hundreds of angry residents at North Park Elementary School, outlining the 24-hour, 180,000-square-foot store it wants to build on 22 acres near the intersection of 4 Mile Road and North Green Bay Road.
“Walmart doesn't help communities,” said Randy Bryce, “it sucks the life out of them.”
Bryce, who ran unsuccessfully to be the Democratic candidate for the 62nd Assembly District, also asked whether Walmart would use local union workers to build the store.
The local impact was also on Joe Kiriaki’s mind. He said the store would hurt local businesses, including Nelson’s, Danny's Meats, and Kortendick Ace Hardware.
“If this store goes in, you can kiss all of those local businesses good-bye,” Kiriaki said. "Caledonia does not want or need a Walmart."
Many crowd members stood up and cheered; no one spoke in favor of the project at the meeting.
"I moved away from Racine to get away from a certain element,” said Brian Kohlmann, 6409 Nicholson Road.
Kohlmann said he wasn’t really concerned about a potential tax increase if the village didn’t get a Walmart store, and that he wanted village officials to know he—and others— are watching.
“I'm a registered voter... And I just wanted to tell the village board that, yes, we’re getting really good at it and you people are all on notice if you vote for this,” he said.
In between audience members’ reactions, Walmart attorney for the project Deborah Tomczak outlined its plans for the store. The front would face 4 Mile Road, she said, and it would have three entrances—including a truck entrance. Three commercial outlots are planned for the north side of the property.
The conceptual plan needs approval from the Planning Commission and Village Board, and Walmart has not yet brought it before them. The company is scheduled to present those plans to both bodies at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Village Hall.
Walmart spokeswoman Lisa B. Nelson explained to the boisterous and outspoken crowd that they were at this meeting to get input on the project before bringing it to the village.
Amidst the shouting, Nelson asked the crowd to allow them to finish the presentation and the crowd quieted.
The company intends to own the building and operate the store, she said, which would offer general merchandise and food but not an automotive department. Nelson said they expect to employ about 300 people.
“The average wage would be $12.50 an hour for full-time and part-time positions and would have benefits,” she explained. "Working at Walmart is one of the best retail jobs out there."
Nelson said Walmart is one of the largest corporate taxpayers in Wisconsin, and that at their store in Stoughton, 28 people have worked there since the doors open; Patch does not have details on how long that store has been open.
"In reaction to Walmart entering the market, researchers have found that, on average, retail prices are reduced and competition is improved," Nelson said.
But several audience members took issue with Nelson’s statements.
One person shouted a question about why, if the company was such a good corporate citizen, Walmart has the highest number of employees in the state on Badgercare and why a number of their employees in 12 states were striking. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, about 9,136 Walmart employees are eligible to qualify for Badgercare and of those employees that are eligible, 3,103 are on Badgercare – the highest number in the state.
Nelson also explained to the crowd that the reason they chose the site was because of what they call “leakage,” which is the number of customers they are getting in adjacent communities.
“Our metrics say this is a good site and we've been very successful at siting these stores in the past," she said.
After the meeting, Nelson said they had anticipated the reaction from the residents and plan to address their concerns.
“But we’re listening and we want to be part of the community,” she said.
Walmart will be back next week to officially present its building plans to the village board and the planning commission at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Gifford Elementary, 8332 Northwestern Avenue. That will be a public meeting where Walmart officials are expected to show the village what they would like to build, but there will not be public discussion on the project, said village administrator Mark Janiuk.
"The opportunity to speak would be at a public hearing and that would be at a later date," he said. "No action will be taken (on Tuesday)."