Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Wal-Mart presents surprise impact study

From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
More public testimony, closing arguments set for Thursday

By Michelle Dupler
Daily News staff writer

Members of the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development have clamored for months for a study on the economic impact that the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter will have on the city of Pullman.

In a surprise move, Wal-Mart gave PARD what it wanted during the second day of hearings on the retail giant’s development application. The first day, Jan. 13, was packed with public comments both supporting and opposing the application.

Bill Reid, a land-use economist with Portland-based consulting firm Johnson Gardner, presented the results of a study he performed showing Wal-Mart is unlikely to affect most businesses in town. His study also showed the super center is likely to reduce the projected 49 percent leakage of shopping dollars from Pullman to other communities.

Wal-Mart filed an application to build a 223,000-square-foot super center on Bishop Boulevard in October 2004. PARD formed in January 2005 to fight the controversial retailer’s presence in Pullman.

That fight has included filing two appeals to Wal-Mart’s site plan and State Environmental Policy Act checklist. A consolidated hearing on the two appeals began Jan. 13 and continued Friday. PARD presented about a day and a half of testimony from members and paid consultants about issues ranging from traffic and stormwater to the proposed store’s proximity to the Pullman cemetery.

Concerns also have been raised about noise and light pollution, including a much-discussed claim by Washington State University Professor James Krueger on Jan. 13 that light pollution could cause Pullman men to become impotent. He based the claim on research involving deer.

The cornerstone of PARD’s argument has been the notion that a Wal-Mart Supercenter will drive small retail businesses, and larger businesses such as ShopKo and Safeway, out of town. They have cited reams of academic studies and mountains of anecdotal evidence to support their claims, but until Friday, no one had presented data specific to Pullman.

Reid’s study focused particular attention to Pullman’s downtown retail sector. He identified 83 retail or retail-service businesses in the central business core, but only 10 that would be in direct competition with the retail giant by selling the same goods or services.

“Pullman’s downtown is like a lot of other small and historical downtowns in the Pacific Northwest,” Reid said. “It doesn’t serve as a primary retail center for residents.”

The evolution of Pullman’s downtown as more of a niche retail market means many businesses won’t be in danger from a Wal-Mart, he said, adding the relatively few empty storefronts he observed were an indication of a “surprisingly vital” downtown.

Reid also noted the “leakage” of retail dollars from Pullman to Moscow, Lewiston and Spokane as a reason he thinks Wal-Mart will provide more benefit than harm to Pullman. Based on the number of households in Pullman and sales- tax data from the Washington Department of Revenue, Reid calculated that Pullman residents spend about $92 million in outside communities that could have been spent locally. That represents about 49 percent of the $187.9 million Reid believes is available for local spending.

“Those are dollars not being captured by existing retailers,” he said.

Reid also projected a Wal-Mart store would bring in about $500,000 in sales-tax revenues for the city of Pullman each year.

PARD’s attorney, Brian McGinn of Spokane, questioned Reid’s methodology, asking if he had studied the effect a Wal-Mart store would have on local wages or how Wal-Mart’s labor practices might affect the community. Reid said he had not studied those issues.

McGinn also questioned whether Reid had considered the impact of having two Wal-Mart Supercenters in the region, with a store having been proposed in Moscow in November.

“I wouldn’t characterize Wal-Mart in Pullman as competing with Wal-Mart in Moscow,” Reid said. “They will not open a store unless they are confident it will make money.”

The hearing was adjourned after an additional two and a half hours of public testimony. More public testimony and closing arguments will begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Gladish Community and Cultural Center.

Hearing Examiner John Montgomery is expected to make a decision on the two appeals within 30 days after the conclusion of the hearing. If he decides in Wal-Mart’s favor, the company will be able to proceed with construction of the store. If he decides against Wal-Mart, the company may be asked to make changes to its application to correct any deficiencies Montgomery identifies.

Montgomery’s decision can be appealed to the Whitman County Superior Court by PARD, Wal-Mart or the city of Pullman.

1 comment:

Unisex said...

So, three years later... is Wal-mart opening a store because I have been waiting a while.