Developer submits plans for Tacoma Wal-Mart

Thanks to a previously overlooked legal technicality, Wal-Mart may be coming to town after all. A California-based developer has submitted plans to build a 150,000 square-foot Wal-Mart supercenter on Union Ave. next door to Target, where the Tacoma Elks Lodge is currently located.

Although the Tacoma City Council passed a 6-month moratorium on all big-box retailers on Aug. 30, it did not take effect until it was printed and publicized in accordance with Washington state law.  The developer submitted plans for the Wal-Mart on Aug. 31, the day before the moratorium was publically released, so it is unclear whether the moratorium applies to the development of Wal-Mart. When this issue of The Trail went to print, a legal decision regarding the moratorium’s application to the proposed Wal-Mart had not been reached.

The City Council cited concerns over the effect of big-box development on community businesses and traffic concerns in their decision to pass the moratorium. The Central Neighborhood of Tacoma (CNC) has been one of the most vocal groups in opposition.

“This is about protecting the businesses already established who are struggling day in and day out to keep their doors open and adding this development will do nothing but drown the market diversity in our neighborhood,” CNC Secretary Justin Leighton said in a Sept. 2 press release. “A large single-purpose retail store with surface parking will not benefit the neighborhood.”

The larger debate on the effect of giant retail stores like Wal-Mart has found its way into classrooms on campus. IPE Professor Emelie Peine, who studied the issue during her time in graduate school at Cornell University in New York, incorporates the subject into her IPE 201 curriculum.

“One of the big critiques is that Wal-Mart takes business away from local businesses and effects local labor markets. There has been a lot of economic research on the subject and it is kind of inconclusive,” Peine said.

Peine was quick to mention that large retailers like Wal-Mart also bring benefits to consumers through their generally low prices.

“As an academic institution that teaches students to think critically, it is our responsibility to do that here as well and to think about what it means to have Wal-Mart as a member of the community. For a lot of people, that means cost-savings,” Peine said.

Annie Bigalke, ’11, former president of Students for a Sustainable Campus (SSC),  critiqued the anonymity and health issues attached to Wal-Mart style retailing.

“Students should definitely care. This is something that will directly impact students. Historically, Wal-Mart has ruined a lot of local economies,” Bigalke said. “Tacoma has made a lot of progress recently as a community and it seems like this would be taking steps backward.”

Perhaps due to lack of publicity, no campus organizations have issued statements on this polarizing community issue. The ASUPS executive administration declined to comment and the Office of Community Engagement did not respond to an interview request.

It would be some time until Puget Sound students are shopping at Wal-Mart. Stores of the proposed size generally take around 18 months to open, according to Kathleen Cooper of the Tacoma News Tribune. Meanwhile, the city awaits the city’s verdict on the moratorium.