Joined by Louisville Metro Council members, community leaders and neighborhood residents, Mayor Greg Fischer announced Monday that Walmart will build a supercenter at the old Philip Morris site.
The $25 million project is the largest investment in the city’s West End in over a decade and is being heralded by supporters as a sign that its neighborhoods are “open for business.”
Walmart plans to build a 155,000 square foot store that will be the size of nearly three football fields, which is expected to bring in over 300 jobs to the area.
The supercenter is expected to open in 2015, and will have an optometrist and pharmacy. As WFPL first reported last November, it will also include a jobs and career center in the California neighborhood to accept applications.
Thanking Walmart for taking a risk, Fischer said after years of negotiations and an economic downturn, the old Philip Morris site will be open for new business.
“Folks we are here to announce the worst kept secret in the history of Louisville,” he said.
Metro Government has already invested $1.8 million for six lots of land that were purchased to help finalize the deal. Of that, $1.1 million was spent in 2013 and the remaining amount will be spent at the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1.
The city is also providing a $500,000 grant to Walmart paid in $100,000 installments over five years, if the retailer meets a threshold of at least 225 new jobs.
Fischer and others praised the work of the developers, Teresa and Frank Bridgewaters, owners of New Bridge Crossings, who initially bought the old Philip Morris lot in 2007.
The Bridgewaters have worked mightily to bring a major retailer to the location and will retain two lots for other potential development projects as it is expected Walmart will attract other businesses.
A YMCA is already scheduled for construction on the adjacent 18th & Broadway corner.
Jobs v. Walmart’s record
Since November, the Walmart deal has sparked a fiercely worded neighborhood debate with at least one council member—Democrat Attica Scott—and labor advocates criticized Walmart’s low wages and worker’s rights record.
Many religious and civil rights leaders, however, argued the need for jobs and development should trump those concerns.
“This area has been so deprived and so for Walmart to take this type of risk and come into this neighborhood is a good thing,” says the Rev. Milton Seymour, chairman of the Justice Resource Center. “We don’t have any jobs worth anything.”
The mayor said Walmart is committed to hiring “local citizens” and pointed out the those jobs will carry a $6 million annual payroll. But there are no requirements in the deal for Walmart to hire neighborhood residents as many labor activists had called for months ago.
Asked if Walmart made any concessions in regards to employee wages or allowing workers to unionize, a spokesman for the retailer said flatly there were none.
Councilman David Tandy, D-4, who represents the area, says bringing a major retailer to the location is good news for West End job seekers and consumers.
“I’m a resident of the Russell neighborhood, I and my family will no longer have to go across the river over into Indiana taking our tax dollars over there to spend if we’re looking for retail opportunities. We can investment our money right here at home,” he says.
Supporters also argue that Walmart is part of a larger mission to revitalize West End neighborhoods, and note the company has done charity work in the area previously.
“There is an extremely robust economy here in west Louisville and what this opportunity does for us is it allows for people for the first time to look at west Louisville in a new light Recognize there are opportunities to work, to do business, and to locate your families here,” says Tandy.
The Walmart project still requires approval by Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services, and many expect this debate to continue in that venue. But city lawmakers who have called for more worker protections in the past tell WFPL they see this as a positive sign.
“There is going to be some concern about the rate of pay these employees will be paid, but first we need to make sure we have some economic development as Councilman Tandy said west of Ninth Street,” says Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3. “Nothing will change for me. I still will be hoping and monitoring how much these employees are going to be paid and their benefits. That is who I am, but we need economic development in west Louisville.”