Deal Or No Deal
Marina City Council stands firmly behind Wal-Mart.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Using logic incomprehensible to some, Marina City Councilman Gary Wilmot predicts that Wal-Mart will spark a revival in Marina’s downtown.
“Eventually, Wal-Mart will leave Marina,” says Wilmot, who admits that he was irked upon learning in March that the world’s largest retail store with a spotty rap sheet was coming to town. “When Wal-Mart arrives, it will pull customers in from outlying areas who don’t usually come to Marina. Those customers will over time spill into the rest of Marina’s downtown stores.
“As Marina fills up with people, [customer traffic] will push back to the Marina Landing Shopping center.”
By then, Wilmot muses, Wal-Mart will vacate the old Kmart site. But instead of leaving an empty store front—as the giant retailer has done in other cities across the US—Wilmot believes that the big box will leave in its wake a revitalized business district and the seeds of a village-style shopping center.
“It will take some time,” Wilmot says. “Maybe 10 to 15 years.”
That prediction makes no sense to Steve Zmak, who for two months has been spearheading an anti-Wal-Mart coalition in Marina along with his wife, Tina.
For one, Zmak argues, Wal-Mart just signed a lease with developer Tallen and Keshen Holdings that would keep them in Marina for at least 20 years.
Tallen and Keshen purchased the Marina Landing Shopping Center from Kmart late last year. The exact purchase price for the blighted lot is listed as confidential, but the property sold for about $10 million (a figure based on the $10,945 in documentary transfer taxes listed for the property in the Wal-Mart lease).
The same property was recently assessed at $5.2 million.
Zmak says Wal-Mart is notorious for sucking the life out of downtown businesses, and there’s no reason to think that the same fate won’t befall Marina. “I can’t imagine what [Wilmot] is basing his theory on,” Zmak says.
At its April 27 meeting, the Marina Planning Commission will once again consider Wal-Mart. The commission may decide to revoke developers Tallen and Keshen’s zoning permit if it determines that Tallen and Keshen did, in fact, lie to acquire the permit (which enabled them to lease with Wal-Mart).
Terrence Tallen and Anne Keshen maintain that they did nothing wrong. “We did not have a Wal-Mart in tow and we were not fronting for Wal-Mart at the Planning Commission hearing,” says Tallen, who will be at the April 27 meeting with his partner, Anne Keshen. “We ask that the residents of Marina give us and Wal-Mart an open mind and a fair chance.”
Regardless of the commission’s decision, the anti-Wal-Mart camp in Marina is outnumbered in some crucial places.
All five members of the City Council have in recent weeks expressed a total unwillingness to block Wal-Mart from coming to Marina, even though most admit that they were disillusioned with the deal at first glance.
Instead, the council is considering measures to prevent Wal-Mart from expanding on the site and to regulate how much employees are paid.
“No matter what the Planning Commission decides,” says Ken Gray, a Marina councilman, “unless something very new comes out, I don’t see the Council doing anything to stop Wal-Mart.” If the commission votes to pull the zoning permit, the decision will be appealed to the City Council.
The City Council isn’t going out on a political limb, either. According to elected officials, the general mood among Marina citizens and business owners seems to be one of welcoming a Wal-Mart into town.
“Most people I’ve talked to are not concerned about the global issues surrounding Wal-Mart, like worker exploitation and low wages,” Gray says. “They are more pragmatic. They like low prices and want to be able to go shopping.”
Dan Cort, mayor pro tem on the Pacific Grove City Council, agrees with Gray’s assessment. But to Cort, the shop-cheap-at-any-cost attitude is precisely the problem.
A Marina store would be the first Wal-Mart on the Monterey Peninsula, and its repercussions would extend well beyond Marina’s City limits, Cort says.
“The long-term effect is going to devastating,” says Cort, who is also a developer. “Small businesses and communities all over the Peninsula, including out here in Pacific Grove and in Carmel, will feel the ripple effect.
“It borders on complete irresponsibility bringing these guys in.”
Cort acknowledges that many people favor Wal-Mart in spite of its blemished track record. “But to them,” Cort says of Wal-Mart supporters, “it’s all about buying things cheap.”
While Wal-Mart signed a lease with Tallen and Keshen in February, Wal-Mart execs have been eyeing Marina as a potential store site for years. Bob Schaffer, spokesman for the University Village developer, says Wal-Mart approached him last year about moving into one of the standard big-box retail spaces planned for University Villages. (Target is instead being planned for that site.)
Marina City Manager Anthony Altfeld also confirms that about two years ago, Marina staff met with Wal-Mart officials to talk about the old Kmart site as a possible location for a future store.
But it wasn’t until after Tallen and Keshen bought the old Kmart site—and acquired a zoning permit in October, allowing the developers to lease to just about any big-box store without requiring a new environmental study—that Wal-Mart approached Tallen and Keshen.
Still, Zmak and a core of activists aren’t giving up the fight. Following a recent screening of a Wal-Mart documentary in Marina, Zmak told attendees, “No matter what they say, this is not a done deal.”
A simple survey of the Marina City Council, however, indicates that it’s very close.