Politics
7:59 am
Wed November 13, 2013

'Walmart Deal' Coming to Philip Morris Site in West Louisville, Sources Say

The old Philip Morris site.
Credit Joseph Lord/WFPL News

A deal is in the works to bring a Walmart to west Louisville, sources close to the negotiations tell WFPL News.

Metro Government and the project’s developers, The Mardrian Group (TMG), have been trying for nearly a decade to bring a major retailer to a lot at the southwest corner of Dixie Highway and Broadway that was formerly occupied by a Philip Morris plant.

The project is considered a serious attempt to revitalize the California neighborhood and surrounding area, but one Metro Council member is already voicing concerns  Walmart's practices regarding employees and the potential negatives consequences for local businesses.

In 2007, TMG purchased the land from the city for $1.3 million with an eye toward turning it into a mixed-use development. Those plans have stalled for a variety of reasons, and the lot remains an abandoned eyesore.

Sources with intimate knowledge of the negotiations tell WFPL an agreement to bring a Walmart to the site is close to being finalized.

One source says talks indicate it will likely be a larger than average store, housing a training center for employees who work at other stores in the retail giant’s network.

Councilwoman Attica Scott says she's been told  by city officials and developers the project will likely be a Walmart. And while she wants to bring economic development to the West End, she hopes the city thinks again before making an agreement with the retailer.

"I will speak vehemently against Walmart unless we have some real solid concessions," she says. “One being that employees coming into Walmart will be local workers from within a 2-3 mile radius of his big box retailer, that Walmart will pay a living wage and Walmart allow workers to form a union."

Part of the overall plan for the old Philip Morris lot involves the city paying off a debt it owes to TMG for contract work building the nearby African-American Heritage Center.

Last month, the council agreed to give TMG $961,000 to settle the debt. Some $300,000 of that sum came from several council members' discretionary funds.

WFPL News obtained an e-mail dated Sept. 28, in which Council President Jim King lobbies his colleagues for support of the repayment plan.

In it, King promises Scott that her commitment of $20,000 in the bill would go toward retiring the heritage center debt. King said he spoke with city CFO Steve Rowland and that Scott's discretionary dollars would not go "to the Walmart deal."

Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration and TMG's president have been reticent about the project. They say they're in talks with a retailer, but would neither confirm nor deny Walmart is the retailer in question.

Both the city and TMG say they've signed a confidentiality agreement barring them from sharing any details of the deal.

"We have development agreement in place now with some developers who have presented us with a fairly solid proposal. And we’re working through some of the loose pieces right now that need to be tied up before that can be fully executed," says Ted Smith, director of Economic Growth and Innovation.

Asked if Walmart is a part of those conversation, Smith would neither confirm nor deny that particular retailer was involved.

An open records request to Metro Government seeking any official correspondence mentioning Walmart did turn up documents, but the city declined to release those records citing attorney-client privilege and other exemptions.

"There’s not much that I’m at liberty to comment on," Smith says.

A Walmart spokeswoman says the company is always looking to expand, but has no news to announce at this time.

Revitalizing west Louisville has been a top priority for the Fischer administration (a new YMCA is slated for an adjacent lot), and it has earmarked funding for that. In January, the city bought a 30-acre piece of land along Muhammad Ali Boulevard to market for companies wishing to either expand or relocate to Louisville.

TMG owns approximately 20 acres of land at the Philip Morris lot, and those familiar with the negotiations say it is being delayed due in part to a smaller piece of property nearby that has yet to be acquired by developers or the city.

TMG President Teresa Bridgewaters says significant progress is being made but the retailer has opted to keep the discussions confidential. She argues any reports about the deal could hurt its chances.

"I do not want to jeopardize anything that we’re doing at 18th and Broadway," Bridgewaters says. "And I’m telling you that you are putting not only us, but the city and that development at risk. You should not run the story."

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