UPDATED 12/15/10 11:47 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Wal-Mart said earlier this week that they don’t have plans to move into a space in the densely populated East Lakeview neighborhood, but now there is word they might be eyeing another site in a Bucktown area corridor that is already loaded with big-box stores.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the owner of a property at 2501 N. Elston Ave., near the junction of Fullerton and Damen avenues, is talking about building a full-size Wal-Mart store there. He said the owner “came in a couple weeks ago and said he had a conversation with Wal-Mart about the site.”
Currently, the block of Elston Avenue that would be affected is lined with industrial buildings. Owner David Reich apparently controls the property through a trust, and is seeking a zoning change to allow for retail development.
Waguespack tells the newspaper that “a pretty vigorous review process” would be required before a Wal-Mart was constructed on the site. Wal-Mart director of community affairs Steve Restivo said the company is not pursuing any deal for the property.
Even if Wal-Mart has no interest in the crowded Elston corridor, the zoning request indicates how the owner is positioning the property. Real estate sources said the furniture retailer Ikea is scouting the North Side as well.
The firm Newmark Knight Frank Epic is marketing the 210,000-square-foot Elston building and its acreage for $19.5 million. Newmark Associate Vice President Adam Schneiderman said there is no contract on the property and he declined further comment. Reich could not be reached.
Presently, the west side of Elston Avenue across from the site is already lined with big-box stores. A Target and a Home Depot just to the north drive a massive volume of traffic to the area, and a CompUSA recently moved into a long-vacant Circuit City space.
Earlier this week, many residents of the tony East Lakeview neighborhood were up in arms over reports that Wal-Mart planned to open a store in a vacant space in the Broadway at Surf shopping complex, located on Broadway between Surf Street and Diversey Parkway.
The reports indicated that Wal-Mart had picked the site to test out its concept for urban “Neighborhood Markets,” and that it would sell groceries and general merchandise. It was purportedly to be placed in a 30,000 square-foot space that was recently vacated by a PetSmart.
Within 24 hours of a report in Crain’s Chicago Business, an outcry erupted among neighborhood residents. Area resident Bruce Beal formed a Facebook group, “Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart,” and David Winner, a challenger to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), called on Tunney to block any deal for a Wal-Mart on the site.
The statement by Wal-Mart public affairs director Maggie Sans said contrary to media reports, the big-box giant had not signed a lease or a letter of intent for the space. But the retailer did say it is evaluating “a number of potential opportunities” in Chicago.
At the meeting of the South East Lake View Neighbors Association, neighbors brainstormed on ways to keep Wal-Mart from locating in the area in the future. Some said it is near impossible to keep a private business from renting in an existing building that is already zoned for big-box retail, but Tunney said he does not expect Wal-Mart to muscle its way into a community that was roundly against it.
Tunney also said if Wal-Mart presented a proposal, he is responsible for listening to it as with any business rather than “saying Wal-Mart, no way, no how.”
On Wednesday morning, some members of the Facebook group remained unconvinced that Wal-Mart is not seeking to locate in the neighborhood.
Members expressed concern that the denial by Wal-Mart might be “a tactic to diffuse opposition,” and feared that the retailer might still try to “weasel (its) way into” the neighborhood without community input. Another speculated that the purported East Lakeview Wal-Mart plan might have been a “trial balloon” to gauge community receptiveness.
Neighbors in East Lakeview have expressed concerns that a Wal-Mart would drive out the many small businesses along Broadway and Diversey Parkway.
Currently, there is only one Wal-Mart store in the city, at North and Kilpatrick avenues on the West Side. Two others are set to open in 2012, in the Pullman Park development at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway, and at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue in the Chatham neighborhood.
After the West Side store opened in 2006, expansion plans were put on hold when the City Council passed an ordinance that required big-box retailers to pay a minimum of $10 per hour and $3 hourly in benefits. Mayor Richard M. Daley vetoed the ordinance not long after it was passed.
Wal-Mart finally got the green light for expansion in the city when it reached a deal with labor unions to set starting wages at $8.75 per hour, which is 50 cents less than unions had wanted.
The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire