What to Make of the Proposed Wal Mart?

Is Athens really open for business?


At its regular monthly meeting this week, the Athens Clarke County Commission usually absent from City Hall.

Black Athenians took the podium to say they were glad at the prospect of Wal Mart coming to town. They look forward to getting jobs--even low-paying jobs are better than no-paying jobs, one said--and to shopping for groceries at an in-town location.

Some echoed the sentiments of and Benson enterprises president Ed Beson, who assured the Commission that "Athens is open for business."

There is, as Patch has reported, organized opposition to a Big Box on the edge of a successful, largely locally owned downtown business district.

There are at least two websites now devoted to raising issues and voicing criticisms of Selig Enterprises and Wal Mart. A has performed an anti-Wal Mart video that has shown up in on-line publications across the Internet. A local film crew has created an anti-Wal Mart short film.

People keep badgering local officials to do something, anything--to either seal the deal with Wal Mart or toughen up regulations and design specs to keep them out.

Within a week, the 90-day that was enacted in November will expire. Will the historic buildings on the Armstrong & Dobbs site come down?

Everyone seems to know what they don't want on the property. But what do they want instead?  Have you called Publix or Kroger and pitched the idea of an in-town grocery along the lines of the one near Georgia Tech?

What do you envision for that property? A farmer's market? A smaller grocery the size of Earthfare or Trader Joe's? A skate park? Amphitheatre? The University of Georgia Natural History museum? Or is it fine as it is?

And what would you do with the cars associated with what you're proposing?

Tell us in the comments. But play nice, please.

gary grossman February 10, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Here are a variety of sources if you want to find out about the real economic impacts of Walmart. According the the National Bureau of Economic Research for every job created by WalMart 1.4 jobs are lost in the community. See The Effects of Wal-Mart on Local Labor Markets Journal of Urban Economics. Volume 67, Issue 1 (2010), pages 1-168 For other references on the effects of Walmart see a variety of evaluations performed by the economic consulting firm Civic Economics at http://www.civiceconomics.com/library/ . People are being deceived about the positive impacts of WalMart although there is no doubt that the lower prices that this company charges do benefit consumers in an economic sense. However, local businesses buy local and WalMart doesn't so the net overall economic impact is negative.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Thanks, Gary. Since Selig hasn't ever invited the press, ie, the public to any of their many closed door meetings in town, I hope we can have a public discussion here. And you have started the ball rolling quite nicely, so thanks very much!
Sarah Cook February 10, 2012 at 02:29 PM
"And what would you do with the cars associated with what you're proposing?" To me, this is one of the biggest questions. It seems we shouldn't be considering any major development on that site - Walmart or otherwise - until we know what the traffic impact will be.
Count Raoul February 10, 2012 at 05:25 PM
I have stayed mute on this subject but can no longer. The historic Armstrong and Dobbs buildings are anything but... they are old sheds built to keep sheetrock dry. As a parent of a college student, I know that she is constantly looking for access to inexpensive curtain rods, throw rugs, bottled water etc. Who please, in downtown Athens, is going to suffer if she shops at the new WalMart as opposed to driving to Oconee County? Mr. Eldridge says there can be millions of dollars in tax revenue from this project. Money to feed the homeless, plant trees or whatever. That skate park or Trader Joe's would not even come close. Athens is the Classic City. Be classy, not elitist.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Count, there is a Wal Mart full of curtain rods 3.8 miles from downtown on the Lexington Highway, should your daughter need something for her abode.
zoey2011 February 10, 2012 at 06:16 PM
There's an article in the Banner-Herald specifically stating that Selig is willing to talk to city officials and the public. I'll believe it when I see it. I'm not categorically opposed to Walmart, although in truth I feel they do more harm than good, but I'm more concerned about the size of the project and the traffic on Oconee. Not to mention the stadium right across the street!
zoey2011 February 10, 2012 at 06:18 PM
p.s. Rebecca, your curtain rods comment is priceless.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 06:23 PM
The traffic is wild already on Oconee Street, as everyone knows who lives here. Adding Wal Mart to the mix, along with 190+ apartments, well--can't wait for the long-awaited traffic study to be submitted!
J Daniels February 10, 2012 at 06:31 PM
The "millions of dollars of tax revenue" is another fallacy of this whole thing. People are not going to start buying more stuff, they will simply buy it in a different place and shift the existing tax revenue around! They'll pull sales away from the existing Walmarts, as well as local businesses whose loss of revenue will offset any gain from a new one. With the job loss documented above, their will probably be a net LOSS of tax revenue and all the profits from local businesses will be vacuumed off to Arkansas.
Count Raoul February 10, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Rebecca I think you are inadvertantly supporting my argument. If my daughter lived near the Lexington Rd. Walmart I would encourage her to go there for her curtain rod. But she does not. In fact she and over 1400 current residents in over 500 units of student rental housing live within walkin distance (subjective I know) of the Armstrong and Dobbs property. They WOULD NOT have to get in their car, clog the roadways and drive 3.8 miles to the Lexington Highway if they had a local big box store. Neither would the likely 500 residents of the 190 units built on the property. They can go shopping in their pajamas....
zoey2011 February 10, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Re: j daniels That is the fact that many studies have indicated. It will not bring a dime in revenue to Athens, and will probably hurt in the long run by the benefits the city will have to pay these people as Walmart surely won't.
MODbelle February 11, 2012 at 02:31 AM
How 'bout we spruce up Athens Plaza on North Ave with this developement? Close to downtown.
Al Davison February 11, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Without wading into the emotionally-charged discussions of scale, location, etc., I think it has already been stated by many in several ways but, from a pure "MBA business case" perspective, it's important to realize that the business model and strategy of most of the big-box retailers is that they don't attempt to create any new demand. In layman's terms, they don't offer products that are not already available at other retail stores so, their strategy is to shift consumer buying from other stores into their stores by offering the same goods at lower prices and offering convenience to the shoppers by concentrating them into a single location. Given that there is a certain ratio of employees per square foot of retail space and there are economies of scale in larger retail outlets then, the overall impact of both employment opportunities (jobs) and sales tax revenues is negligible. People won't buy more stuff - they just buy it in a different place. Businesses adjust their work force based primarily on demand. If you have fewer customers, you need fewer employees. If you have more customers, you need more employees. If you simply shift the demand from one location to another, you end up with about the same number of jobs as you've always had. This is just basic business. Of course, everything is more complicated than "basic" but, I'm not expecting much local economic impact whether this development happens or not - other than the character of local retailing.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 11, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Great Idea, regardless of what happens with Armstrong and Dobbs. Close to the Bypass and on a four lane road....
Vicky Tavernier February 11, 2012 at 02:49 PM
And this is a known fact! Yet our business community still roots for it. I'm not getting the rational at all. Not to mention the fact the our government subsidizes each Walmart employee at around $2000 a year because Walmart pays so poorly. The Walmart managers keep lists of social services to hand out to employees when they fall on hard times or health issues. And this is the world's largest company with the highest profit? I don't get why we roll over and play poor-me for this. Our people deserve better.
Vicky Tavernier February 11, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Imagine game-day.
Camille Templeton February 11, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I know quite a few people living downtown who are very excited about the proposed WM development, as they would be for any grocery store willing to set up shop in downtown Athens. Having lived through several big changes in the downtown landscape, I feel like I am finally going to see a change that I can get excited about. A downtown grocery store will allow more people to live and work downtown, therefore creating a true walking community - and the basis of this culture already exists. Hipsters rejoice - downtown will not only be cool, but also convenient! Single mamas without a car will have only a small hill to climb rather than mountainous N.Ave. And of course, UGA students living in the dorms, many without a car, will now be able to walk or ride the UGA bus to the store. I love this idea, and I hope the ACC Comissioners, Athens residents and Selig can all work together on this.
Count Raoul February 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Excellent Camille! Excellent! Hipsters rejoice indeed!
Mark Farmer February 19, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Yay! Walmart and Caterpillar and lots of jobs and tax revenue. Eat that, sad little naysayers. While you're at it go ahead and cry over your destined to fail recall petition for the first mayor in 10 years to increase business and employment in Athens.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 19, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Dear Mark, I have never heard anyone, those for Wal Mart in downtown or those against it, mention Caterpillar. In fact, I daresay most people who don't work for the local government or the state or caterpillar itself even knew this was happening. Also, many of those concerned about Wal Mart are not involved in the recall effort. We won't know who's doing that until the 100 "sponsor" names are dropped off at the Board of Elections tomorrow. If, indeed, there are 100 valid signatures.....
Mark Farmer February 20, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Dear Rebecca, If you haven't heard or read any of the anti-WM group mentioning Cat, then you don't read the PFABA Facebook page. Also, the recall was first discvered by an intrepid outsider following links from PFABA's FB page to a Ms. Zahn's FB page. Indescretion made that issue get announced a bit early and to an utter lack of fanfare and surprise.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 20, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Dear Mark, the group I pay closer attention to has a different orientation and website. It's http://protectdowntownathens.com/ which is measured, thoughtful and informative. I will see what Russell and his folks are up to; haven't checked lately. thanks.


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