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Worse than I thought

by Jerry Bader

Well, Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt  finally has shown his hand  in the downtown Green Bay Walmart controversy.  And let's start by saying it isn't four aces. The way Schmitt has been fighting a downtown super center on the far north end of Broadway, you would think it's a proposal for a 150 thousand square foot porn shop. I have spoken on the show and written repeatedly elsewhere how absurd it is that Schmitt is leading the charge against a story that would:

  • Create some 300 jobs
  • add millions to the tax base
  • fill a serious need for affordable food and retail products in downtown Green Bay
  • be developed with virtually no request of assistance from the city, no TIF dollars, no remediation dollars
  • take the city off the hook for $3 million debt it would face if it takes over the property, which is very likely if this plan falls through.
So, according to Press Gazette media, what cards does Schmitt have up his sleeve? Well, first he admits he loves the idea of the property defaulting to the city. I've argued for the past several months that Schmitt was creating the perception that he wanted a loan default so he (the city) could get his hands on the property. He now giddily admits that, calling it an exciting opportunity. And what might go there? Well clearly Schmitt has nothing in the hopper to immediately replace the Walmart proposal, but here are some of his musings:
  • indoor farm
  • new venue for art or music
  • some combination of those elements, and maybe another microbrewery or loft apartments

Indoor farm? new entertainment venue? Those sound like public projects. As for the others, it seems obvious those are Schmitt pipe dreams and that there is no developer waiting breathlessly for the Walmart deal to fall through so they can swoop in.

And here's the point I'll continue to pound ad nauseum; any of these will cost the city millions in assuming the debt, remediation and TIF or other assistance dollars a developer will want. Start with the $3 million debt assumption by the city and it's not difficult to see this number approaching $10 million. And for what? A project that won't return a fraction of the benefits to the community a Walmart will? At a cost of millions of dollars that a new Walmart wouldn't cost the city?

Opponents of Walmart don't understand why this has become a crusade for me. Some accuse me of being paid by Walmart (one listener told my producer off air that if I'm really not getting paid, then I'm making a fool of myself). My beliefs are never for sale. I have no vested interest in this. I live in Ashwaubenon not Green Bay (okay, my wife works in downtown Green Bay and would shop at this store often; there, full disclosure).

But one of the elements of my show is fighting for what I think is right for the communities I serve; clearly Green Bay is the largest of those communities. Tired arguments about "poor fit" aside, this store would be a tremendous boost for downtown Green Bay and I think it would be borderline scandalous to walk on this opportunity and have the city incur millions in cost that would likely accompany any other proposal. 

So until the city does the right thing or this fight is lost, I will persist.