Does Walmart fit with the vision of west Louisville’s economic and jobs plan?
That was a question the Louisville Forum tackled Wednesday afternoon in a debate featuring some of the deal’s vocal critics and supporters.
Metro Council Democrats Attica Scott and David Tandy took opposing views on the deal and the need for public subsidies.
The two grappled with what the $25 million project will mean for the area.
Scott said she isn’t opposed to bringing jobs to the area, but wants to ensure workers are hired from the surrounding neighborhoods and are paid an adequate wage.
“We can do government differently,” she said.
“I want job creation to be responsible and transparent and a way that engages residents and neighborhoods. We have models, for example, the historic 28th Street business corridor we now have a plan that empowered residents for people who live there to make decisions.”
But Tandy said a Walmart has the potential to bring a different mix of business to the area if critics take an objective view.
“This deal is no different than any other deals that we’ve done,” he said. “Whether you like it or not—Fourth Street Live—and everybody wants to talk about the deal that was cut with the Cordish Cos. But if you look at our downtown community that major development spurred other development and all those new shops are taking place because you started with a project that created energy and people coming back into the community.”
Scott and Tandy were joined on the panel by Caitlain Lally, spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, and former Greater Louisville Inc. development officer DeVone Holt.
Besides Walmart’s labor practices and employee salaries, opponents have complained about the lack of transparency. A recent piece by WDRB’s Chris Otts uncovered details of the deal that weren’t initially disclosed by the city.
For one, the city is not actually buying the six lots near the Walmart site. Instead, it’s giving the $1.8 million to the developers of the project, Teresa and Frank Bridgewaters, in an arrangement that would allow them to pocket any funds not needed for the land purchases or other final work to complete the deal.
The agreement, obtained under the Kentucky Open Records Act, requires the developers to repay the money they spend on the land if the Walmart is never built, but stops short of saying any unneeded funds must be returned to the city.
“Our country is in the throes of debate right now about raising the minimum wage and improving the working conditions for part-time retail jobs that have replace so many full-time jobs that were replaced during the recession,” said Lally. “And Walmart jobs are at the center of that debate. The fact that we’re talking about this after the deal is done suggests that there are some leaders in our community that didn’t think that Louisvillians deserved to have that debate when it came to their own hometown.”
Since the city announced it was providing Walmart with a $500,000 grant to create 225 jobs, some have questioned the super store’s economic impact. But others, including Mayor Greg Fischer, have touted the overall investment as a “game-changer” for the West End.
Holt said that in his experience negotiating projects in public would be a “nightmare” for the city and developers, but that residents have ample opportunity to engage the plan now.
“What we do have here in Louisville, Ky. are procedures that still allow after a deal is made for the community to engage and interact in a way to determine how that project is ultimately introduced into its community. So I think there’s some really disingenuous undertones in this conversation today suggesting that there was something inherently wrong in the way than this project was handled,” he said.
Those in support of Walmart argue it will bring competitive pricing to areas that are being taken advantage of by smaller chains, and others say it gives more convenience to residents.
Holt said he isn’t necessarily a supporter of Walmart as a company, but he has described Scott’s opposition as treasonous on his weekly radio program. During the forum he described it as an “attack” on west Louisville when “outsiders” protested the development.
“That is a great insult to me, that’s a great insult to my west Louisville colleagues, my west Louisville council member who is advocating for development in our community,” he said. “And I think as a result of all of this you see now a healthier west Louisville resident population who now recognizes that they have to fight and stand up for the development of their community, because the cavalry ain’t coming.”