Rocky Mountain News
Wal-Mart proposal criticized
Date: October 9, 2003
A handful of the 50 people gathered carried signs bearing slogans such as ``Protect Small Business'' and ``No Welfare for Wal-Mart.'' Others applauded vigorously for speakers detailing evidence they say proves the Bentonville, Ark.- based retailer exploits its workers, brings down area wages and puts smaller retailers out of business.
The speakers, gathered at Alameda Square in west Denver on Wednesday morning, were part of The Campaign for Responsible Development, a coalition of groups that includes organized labor, low- income housing advocates and environmental and trade groups.
At issue was a proposed 209,000- square-foot Wal-Mart Super center that would replace the dilapidated shopping center at 2200 W. Alameda Ave., a 20-acre parcel the city designated a blighted site in 1991. If the deal proceeds, Wal-Mart would keep much of the sales and property tax generated at the site, as reimbursement for developing there, perhaps $10 million to $12 million before the urban renewal designation expires in 2016.
``When our tax dollars are invested, the projects should be creating good jobs,'' said Chris Nevitt, director of The Front Range Economic Strategy Center. Wal-Mart, the world's largest corporation, doesn't publicize what it pays employees, saying only that it offers ``competitive wages.'' Coalition members quoted the figure paid to the retailer's non-management workers at between $7.50 and $8.50 per hour, an average based on figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Residents will foot the bill, said University of Colorado at Denver urban politics professor Tony Robinson, as low-income workers without health insurance use subsidized services at Denver Health Medical Center and further strain the city's scarce stock of affordable housing. ``The reason we're all here is, we think government stands for something other than supporting Wal- Mart,'' Robinson said.
A smaller group from the neighborhood, who worry that if Wal-Mart pulls its plans, no one else will step up to redevelop the blighted site, also showed up to air their feelings. ``We've had all kinds of people try to develop this place,'' said Andy Davis, a neighborhood dweller for 50 years. The group says the Super center would not only spruce up the spot, bringing sidewalks and attractive landscaping, but also would give residents a convenient and cheap shopping option and bring jobs that many residents would be eager to fill, even if they are low-paying.
Also present were small-business owners, worried that the giant will topple the fruits of their hard work. Alameda Square houses about 20 small, mostly Asian-owned businesses. The business owners' relocations would be subsidized through the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, but the group fears that having to rebuild elsewhere could cost them their businesses.
Speakers cited other statistics, saying two-thirds of Wal-Mart's workers can't afford the company's health care plan; that lawsuits offer evidence Wal-Mart discriminates against its female workers; and that the company destroys more jobs than it creates when it puts smaller retailers out of business.
Denver City Councilwoman Kathleen McKenzie, whose district includes the site, said she's conflicted on whether Wal-Mart would be the best recipient of the future tax benefits. ``I would say, all of my constituents except for those right around Alameda Square think it's a bad idea,'' McKenzie said. ``But I also represent those people, and I know how much they want a Wal-Mart.''