Seng to Wal-Mart: We Don’t Want Your Money

December 13, 2005 at 1:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Mayor

Queen Seng finally went public with her decision to veto any City Council decision in favor of building a Wal-Mart at 84th and Adams. Seng’s decision is ostensibly based on the notion that Wal-Mart is inappropriate for a “neighborhood center” commercial area. The reality is that Seng, like many community leaders around the country, thinks that Wal-Mart—rather, another Wal-Mart—isn’t “good enough” for Lincoln. She is wrong.

Lincoln is not in a position to be picky about who chooses to conduct business here. Yet time after time Lincoln’s civic leaders choose to take business-unfriendly positions, robbing the community of countless tax and investment dollars. Gallup fled to Omaha. Tractor Supply Company chose Waverly. And on and on.

Seng’s arguments against Wal-Mart ring hollow. She complains that a Wal-Mart is not consistent with the typical “neighborhood center” in Lincoln. Commercial area designations in the Comprehensive Plan—“neighborhood center”, “community center”, and “regional center”—are suggestions, not hard and fast rules. Seng knows that, as does anybody who has paid attention to land use in Lincoln over the years. The Comprehensive Plan is amended and outright violated all the time. That’s how it should be; market forces are much better indicators of appropriate land use than are planners looking into their crystal balls several years or decades down the line.

Seng complains that a Wal-Mart could increase traffic to the point that new roads will be required. Note that word “could”. It’s a classic lazy argument. It means “I don’t actually know, but I’ll plant the idea in your head to try to sway your opinion.” Even if improved transportation infrastructure is required, it would not be inconsistent with expectations for that area. It’s a growing area (hence Wal-Mart’s desire to build there). Improved roads are a certainty with or without Wal-Mart. Blaming the need for new roads on Wal-Mart alone is a red herring.

Seng also frets that a neighborhood center should have, as the article puts it, “a variety of stores and services, similar to the neighborhood center at 27th Street and Nebraska [Highway] 2, with a Russ’s, Shopko and other assorted stores.” Nowhere is it written that a) those services are required in a neighborhood center, or b) that those services must be provided by separate stores. A Wal-Mart Supercenter offers the exact same services as the Russ’s, Shopko, bank, and restaurants at 27th & Highway 2. Wal-Mart’s crime? Putting all of those services into one store.

I am also angry with Seng for playing political games with this process by refusing to state her position until yesterday, forcing the City Council to delay their vote for a week, and confusing the developers. Once again Seng’s actions demonstrate her anti-economic development worldview.

I’m not saying that Wal-Mart is the best option for 84th & Adams. I don’t know what the best option is. But Mayor Seng is playing political games and offering lame excuses for wanting to deny millions of dollars of economic input into the local economy. There are intellectually honest reasons to oppose the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at 84th & O that don’t rely on anti-Wal-Mart hysteria and elitist conceptions of what’s “good” for the community. Colleen Seng has not offered up a single one.

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The Comments

Brent Johnson December 13, 2005 at 3:32pm

“That

Mr. Wilson December 13, 2005 at 4:08pm

You’re touching on two separate issues here. I agree that “it is important to plan” for present and future land use needs. But that plan should be a guide, not static gospel. The Comprehensive Plan has always been intended to be generally, not strictly, followed.

And the answer to your question is: Sure, why not? Apparently local consumers are clamoring for Wal-Mart’s services, or else the company wouldn’t be trying to build another store here.

Or are you really asking if I, personally, want another Wal-Mart in Lincoln? Not really. I find the Wal-Mart experience to be unpleasant, inside and out. That’s why I rarely shop there, and it’s why I cringe whenever The Missus shops there. But do you know why I don’t stop The Missus from shopping at Wal-Mart? (Aside from the facts that I can’t, and that I’m not a misogynist.) I don’t stop her because her priority is to find a larger variety of items—such as a particular kind of apple that she prefers—at lower prices than she can find elsewhere. That’s exactly what Wal-Mart offers. Who am I to say that’s a bad thing? If that’s her top priority, and if Wal-Mart meets her needs where others fail, why shouldn’t she shop there?

I, on the other hand, place greater priority on things like local ownership, customer service, proximity, and higher quality goods. I’m fortunate not to have to always place low cost at the very top of my priority list. (It’s just near the top for me.) I could still place it at the top by choice, but in many cases I choose not to. Many Lincolnites, however, don’t have that choice. To them, discount retailers like Wal-Mart are incredibly important. Who am I to tell people who have to or choose to prioritize low prices that Wal-Mart is not an option? Or that Wal-Mart is an option, but they can only choose from two?

Let me turn the question around. Why doesn’t Lincoln need “yet another” Wal-Mart? If not Wal-Mart, what does Lincoln need?

Brent Johnson December 13, 2005 at 10:01pm

I think lincoln needs a huge skatepark!  You know where the old car dealships are on O street.  That would be rad.

How many Wal-marts is too many Wal-marts?  What social costs are associated with having yet another Wal-mart?  How will it affect the economy in that area of Lincoln?  Those are good questions too.

Abe of Lincoln December 21, 2005 at 6:58am

I like Wal-Marts. The best part is how looking at the other customers makes me feel like I’m 50 lbs lighter. smile

Actually, the vetoed location would have been very convenient for me. Too bad Lincoln has such an anti-business attitude under the current administration. The only “pro-business” idea Seng can propose is to use eminent domain to steal from property owners to subsidize a hotel. Of course, that’s only “pro-business” if you’re on the receiving end of the subsidy chain.

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