Walmart is canceling its plan to build a new superstore in West Louisville, more than two years after it first proposed the project.
The company had planned to build the store at 18th and Broadway. According to a tweet from Mayor Greg Fischer on Friday afternoon, Walmart is “backing away” from that plan:
Unfortunately, @Walmart is backing away from its 18th & Broadway plans. I'll address this further 4 pm; watch here for the live-stream
— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) October 28, 2016
The $30 million project was expected to bring 300 new jobs to West Louisville and have an annual payroll of $6 million.
In a news conference Friday afternoon, Fischer said he expected the city would find another tenant for the property.
“As you’ve heard me say many times before, we’re not measured in the end by how we’re knocked down, but how we get up,” he said. “And the bottom line is we’ve got a wonderful piece of property on one of the most important corridors in our city, so some good news will be happening on this piece of property at some time.”
Teresa Bridgewaters, whose development company owns the land at 18th and Broadway that formerly housed a Philip Morris factory, declined to comment on Friday afternoon. She told The Courier-Journal earlier on Friday that she blamed the Fischer administration for not bringing the project to fruition.
The project was also embroiled in a lawsuit from local preservationists who objected to Walmart’s use of a suburban-style design — dominated by a large parking lot fronting the street — in the urban space. The suit delayed the project for months.
Fischer blamed that in part for Walmart’s decision.
“And the frustrating truth is had it not been for the lawsuit brought by a very small group of citizens, Walmart would be open today,” he said. “18th and Broadway would be a busy, active place.”
Steve Porter, an attorney for the preservationists, said Friday he believed market changes in the big-box business and the failure of local officials to nail down the deal were more to blame than his lawsuit.
“It’s a tough day for those who wanted it, but I do not think my clients stopped the Walmart,” he said. “I think the joint actions of the developer and the city stopped the Walmart.”
But Anne Hatfield, a Walmart spokeswoman, issued a statement Friday that also implicitly blamed the lawsuit.
“After much deliberation and consideration of various business factors and the extensive delays to the project, we have decided not to pursue development of a new store in West Louisville at this time,” she said.
She also praised Fischer’s leadership on the project.
This is the second major Fischer administration project in West Louisville that has failed in the past three months.
The developers behind the $53 million West Louisville FoodPort, which was to be housed in Russell, canceled that project in August after a key tenant backed out.
Rumblings that a Walmart was coming to the former Phillip Morris factory site stretch back to 2013, but hopes for a major retailer to occupy the site go back even further.
Advocates for such a development have long argued it could revitalize the economically distressed area. But the plan to bring a Walmart to the corner of 18th Street and Broadway also drew critics.
Shortly after the plan was announced, former Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott, who is now a state representative-elect, said city leaders should demand “some real solid concessions” regarding hiring practices from the big box retailer.
“One being that employees coming into Walmart will be local workers from within a 2-3 mile radius of this big-box retailer, that Walmart will pay a living wage and Walmart allow workers to form a union,” she told WFPL News in 2013.
More recently, the project irked preservationists and some residents, who dismissed the development plans — which called for a suburban-style superstore with a large parking lot fronting the street — as unsuitable for an urban setting.
The city’s planning commission last year approved a series of variances that would allow the retailer to build further away from the street than city code allows.
A Walmart representative at that March 2015 meeting said the variances allowed for parking and access for supply trucks. If the variances were not approved, the retailer would have ended the nearly $25 million deal, the representative said.
The suburban concept led preservationists to file suit against Walmart, demanding the retailer change its design.
On Friday, Scott posted a statement on social media saying she hoped elected officials would demonstrate the “political will” to pursue “equitable economic development” in West Louisville going forward.
“While there were efforts to mischaracterize corporate and governmental accountability as opposition to jobs, the reality is that Walmart opposed respecting our zoning laws, opposed calls to respect the built environment in West Louisville, and continues to be heavily scrutinized for its ties to the gun industry and its labor issues,” she wrote.
This story has been updated.