Politics
2:27 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Walmart Job Openings Trump Store Design, Says Louisville Civil Rights Group

Though a coalition of west Louisville neighborhood leaders are demanding an urban-styled Walmart, a prominent civil rights organization says the 300 expected jobs matter more to residents.

Those who oppose a suburban superstore for the 18th & Broadway location want Mayor Greg Fischer and other city officials to stand up to the big-box retailer, which is seeking an exemption from the city's land code.

Credit Phillip Bailey/WFPL News

  The Justice Resource Center, a prominent local civil rights group, however, is arguing most residents are more concerned with the development and jobs than Walmart's design.

"Walmart is doing us a favor," said the Rev. Milton Seymour, acting director of the Justice Resource Center. "When I say us, I mean the community by taking a risk to come into the community. And I don’t believe we ought to be putting up all of these barriers to this company."

Historically, under the late Rev. Louis Coleman, the Justice Resource Center led protests against local companies that had failed to hire minorities.

Several labor rights groups criticized the Walmart deal for lacking requirements to hire from the surrounding neighborhood, but Seymour said his group's chief concern is that Walmart will decide to walk-off the project as a result of design protests.

"We got 300 jobs that's promised. We got a great opportunity to take that corner, which for 15 years has nothing been done and make it shine once again," Seymour said. "I don’t want to put anything in the way of Walmart or anybody else that wants to come into that area."

Other local organizations hold the opposite viewpoint.

Louisville Climate Action Network Director Sarah Lynn Cunningham told WFPL an urban design is more beneficial to pedestrians in the neighborhood given the lack of automobile access.

"We would like to see no more suburban-style Walmarts anywhere, but especially at 18th & Broadway because so many residents in that area do not have private transportation," she said.

Census data shows just over 20 percent of residents surrounding the site in the California and Russell neighborhoods reported they did not own a vehicle.

"What we believe is that all new development should be pedestrian and public transit friendly," said Cunningham "We are expressing it in terms of private vehicle ownership because we believe the powers that be probably don't realize how big of a problem that is. And if we put it in terms of data, our mayor, who speaks in terms of wanting to make data-based decisions, will get our perspective in terms that he can value."

The city passed one of the first and largest "form-based" provision in its zoning law over a decade ago. That rule mandates a storefront facade in an urban district -- such as the former Philip Morris site -- must abut the sidewalk.

Fischer's office declined to make available economic development chief Ted Smith available for an interview, but reiterated its commitment to working with those involved.

"The project is still in the design phase and our team is working with Walmart, along with the other stakeholders in the area, to find the best possible solution with regard to design, sustainability and the community," said Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter.

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