Chicago's Shops and Lofts at 47. (Courtesy Community Builders)
Chicago's Shops and Lofts at 47. (Courtesy Community Builders)
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[Editor’s Note: Due to today’s snow, today’s BOZA hearing for the West End Walmart has been rescheduled for March 2. The meeting is open to the public and will begin at 8:30a.m., but according to Metro Louisville, the earliest the Walmart case will be heard is 1:00p.m. The meeting takes place in the Old Jail Building at 514 West Liberty Street.]

The West End Walmart is already feeling like a foregone conclusion despite its upcoming variance hearing at the Board of Zoning Adjustments (BOZA) on March 2. That board, chaired by the only outspoken critic on the Louisville Metro Planning Commission, David Proffitt, could decline the mega-corporation’s request to upend Louisville’s long-established land development codes, or it could cave, just like the planning commission, over empty threats to walk away from a ridiculously subsidized deal—some $4.2 million in direct and indirect contributions for a $25 million project.

Ahead of that hearing, it’s worth taking a look at one example of a Walmart-anchored development that has a few direct comparisons to the 18th Street, Dixie Highway, and West Broadway site. Many have pointed to mixed-use or urban Walmarts being built in wealthy and powerful communities such as in Washington, DC, but late last year, a mixed-use building with a Walmart Neighborhood Market in its base opened in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Bronzeville is not a wealthy enclave like where DC is building Walmarts. It’s a historically African-American neighborhood that has experienced job loss and disinvestment on Chicago’s South Side.

Chicago's Shops and Lofts at 47. (Courtesy Community Builders)
Chicago’s Shops and Lofts at 47. (Courtesy Community Builders)

The so-called Shops and Lofts at 47 brought 72 apartments, 55,000 square feet of retail (41,000 square feet occupied by Walmart), and 24 new flats next to the main building to the neighborhood. Among the 96 new residential units, 44 are affordable, 28 are public housing, and 24 are market-rate apartments, reported The Architect’s Newspaper. The project was developed by the non-profit Community Builders, which has experience building urban housing across the United States, according to the Chicago Gazette. Other stakeholders included LISC Chicago, Quad Communities Development Corporation, and Columbus, Ohio–based Skilken Development Company.

According to The Architect’s Newspaper:

Anchored by a Walmart Neighborhood Market, the $46 million affordable housing and retail development opened on October 14 after eight years of failed and stalled attempts to revitalize the corner of 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. The largely African American community of Bronzeville flourished through the 1950s, earning a reputation far beyond Chicago as a middle-class “Black Metropolis” where black culture and black-owned businesses rivaled or surpassed Harlem in New York City. Since then it has suffered job loss, disinvestment, and depopulation, despite its proximity to Lake Michigan and The Loop.

LISC Chicago wrote shortly after the opening, “The $46 million apartments-over-retail complex on the southwest corner of 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue shows what can be accomplished when a community gets organized, aims high… and never gives up.” Like Louisville, the Bronzeville site saw several failed redevelopment schemes, and took the development team over seven years to complete.

Walmart Neighborhood Markets are better geared towards urban neighborhoods, and, according to the Gazette, the store’s focus is “on groceries and fresh food but includes health and cleaning products, a pharmacy, and a photo processing center.” The Bronzeville store created about 100 retail jobs.

The Architect’s Newspaper continued:

The city [of Chicago] kicked in $13 million in tax increment financing for site preparation, wrangling more than $8 million in loans mainly from the Chicago Housing Authority, $663,000 in donations tax credit equity, $8.4 million in low-income housing tax credit equity, and “up to” $20 million in tax-exempt bonds. The commercial component won $3.3 million in New Markets Tax Credit equity.

Walmart’s Louisville plans call for a Supercenter that’s some three times the size of the Neighborhood Walmart concept. At 154,000 square feet in a single-use, single-story building set 400 feet from the street, the Supercenter model is fundamentally at odds with urban life. In order to remain financially viable, such stores rely on a rampant car-culture at the expense of walkability. It’s the exact opposite of a city.

While $46 million might seem steep for Louisville’s market—Bristol Development is proposing some 260 luxury apartments in the middle of Downtown’s most thriving neighborhoods for $50 million—the Chicago example shows that pursuing a place-driven development scheme with a coalition of supports is a better approach than turning over the keys entirely to Walmart and letting them run amok in the city’s core. Could a coalition in Louisville have brought in additional money from the Louisville Metro Housing Authority, other affordable housing developers, New Market Tax Credits, and by selling off excess land not required to house a sprawling Supercenter? (And could the building be built for less in Louisville in the first place?)

In Chicago, the development team and the city leveraged the density of the surrounding neighborhoods to show the economic viability of the area. According to LISC:

Traditionally, retailers seeking new locations for their shops and stores look at consultants’ reports about the median income of the area. It’s an approach that doesn’t work for low-income, high-density urban neighborhoods.

Ten years ago, ShoreBank came up with another way to measure the economic strength of an inner-city neighborhood: by looking more closely at how population density translates into community buying power.

Called MetroEdge, this market analysis approach looks at the amount of money spent by residents of a densely packed urban neighborhood. While a household’s median income might be low, taken as a whole, the neighborhood packs a solid economic punch.

West Louisville has over 60,000 residents, which combined, make up a significant buying power even though individually neighborhood incomes don’t match those in the eastern county. The Chicago example shows that revitalizing a downtrodden neighborhood and bringing in new retail—even Walmart—can bring new jobs, new housing, and new options to residents. And without the extra baggage of throwing out Land Development Codes and bad design precedents.

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  1. First off, props for fighting the good fight, especially in an area of town that most locals are far too dismissive of. Residents of the West End and Louisville in general should feel insulted by Walmart’s lazy design considering the amount of Government subsidy going into the project.

    That being said, I’d point out that Bronzeville has certain economic advantages that West Louisville does not have. The surrounding density of the area of Chicago is far greater than in Louisville’s case. And the proximity to the an exceptional, world class university in the University of Chicago is also a big factor. From what I understand parts of Bronzeville are gentrifying, which does not seem to be the case in West Broad. WalMart is out to make money. Gaining a foothold in Bronzeville would seemingly do more for the comany than a similar foothold in West Louisville. Of course they are going to roll out all the stops.

  2. WalMart has done exactly what they were told they needed to do. Nothing. None of their representatives showed any glimmer of a pulse and neither did the Econ person. When a community has a golden opportunity to render real change, has a form based development code that sets those achievable goals in place, and instead chooses to water it all down and squander that opportunity for opportunistic deal making on a bare bones lowball scale……well. A multi use building built to the street (just like much of East Broadway) with affordable mixed housing, maybe some elderly, maybe a daycare, maybe all those urban amenities our leaders cannot bother to move ten blocks further west while trumpeting all that west of ninth bullshit about how we need to make things better..(Move Louisville Forward Louisville Vision Louisville)……..but the millennial apartment dwellers will get an upscale grocery at the Omni Next Great Thing?! Those people don’t even live there yet! I am so tired of one set of rules for the haves and no set of rules for the rest of this city. Building up the remaining housing stock ( about fifteen houses old and new disappeared for 18th and Broadway, while MSD pillages more west of this site for flood plain issues that east end houses in the flood plain aren’t dying for), and reconnecting the thriving portions of west louisville to Broadway isn’t high tech …… I just pulled out a study for west broadway from 1994. Lotsa dust no action.
    Had WalMart been directed from a position of real development savvy – they’d have built what you see above and there’d been no need for divisiveness or variances and waivers and countless zoning meetings that only make the attorneys richer and make us look like we aren’t really that serious about visionary 21st century sustainable planning. It shows instead that we are a community that plays word games while nothing changes. Want economic advantages? Create a different environment that allows it to happen.

  3. It’s a sad mistake to think West Louisville is anything like Bronzeville. The Chicago neighborhood has been in the process of a very good economic recovery for years. Walmart is last to get in. Property values and incomes for the surrounding areas have been increasing due to gentrification starting in 2001. West Louisville…..TBD.

  4. Good design has very little to do with gentrification . These are the regulations (cornerstone(walled) 2020) we set in place over ten years ago for this community as a whole. There are no site challenges other than Lil Miss Walmart rep’s claim that “if its built to the street then the associates will be unable to reach their dreams”. Bleah. In five years they’d better pitch a revival tent in that parking lot reminiscent of showcase cinemas …….and every other dead Walmart out by the bypass …….. Or the definition of insanity……

  5. Good design shouldn’t have anything to do with gentrification, but it’s going to when a private company is involved. Espeically a greedy goliath like Walmart. I absolutely agree that the city should have stuck to it’s regulations but I can’t say I’m surprised at Walmart’s dismissal of them.

    “I am so tired of one set of rules for the haves and no set of rules for the rest of this city” I think you hit the nail on the head there.

  6. I continue to listen to the arguments that Broken Sidewalk makes about poor design, and I am not saying that your arguments are without merit.

    This is what I do say however: where were the likes of you as that property has lay barren for nearly FIFTEEN YEARS? Where were you with high-minded development proposals then? How come none of you folk approached the Bridgewaters family with proposals and capital?

    Where was the incentive for Walmart to do an urban design with $1.9 million, as opposed to the tens of millions more that was obtained in the Chicago project?

    Communities such as West Louisville get squeezed on two ends. One comes from the hand-wringing liberals that are looking to scuttle a project that will bring commercial traffic, shopping convenience, and JOBS (and yes, even Walmart jobs matter when you have community unemployment numbers approaching 20 percent or more) to West Louisville, and the other comes from the prejudiced, negative individuals who revile the places and people that live in West Louisville.

    Frankly, for the economic and developmental future of our spaces, we could do without either.

  7. Mr Hicks, forget THIS design and THIS site for a moment.

    Our community’s DEVELOPERS asked for rules that would be clear and consistent so that they could know what to anticipate in putting a project together. The Land Development Code was a pretty good attempt at putting those rules in place. We may not always be happy about how it’s administered but, in general, we can anticipate costs and timing of approvals because there is a known process.

    If the rules are undermined simply because one powerful player doesn’t like them, we’re thrown back into the pre-LDC situation of no-one understanding what the rules are and every decision about development approvals being discretionary. The perception of fairness is lost and developers’ sense of risk that they’ll have unanticipated costs is increased. Not a good development climate.

    The Bridgewaters got this site for nearly nothing, were offered significant help from the city for its redevelopment, and presented previous designs that showed they understood the rules and could develop the site accordingly. They showed good faith at first, and then at some point, both they and Walmart decided that the rules simply wouldn’t apply to them. The decision to allow them to follow through with such a position is bad for ALL OF US that have to work in the design and development community.

    As I said in a previous piece, this kind of project is exactly what the LDC was made for.

  8. archintent, I hear your argument, but I cannot forget this design and this site because of this:

    That is the demographic that I live in and amongst. I am a rarity: a married guy with a family and an advanced degree who owns a home that happens to be in one of the poorest zip codes in the entire nation.

    This community needs this, desperately. If this is scuttled, what about our population? What about that site?

  9. I agree that the community need retail options. TMG’s earlier proposal – if it had worked – would have been ideal.

    So you think ANY option is better than no option. Which is, I think, where we differ. The current proposal establishes from now forward that, from this corner south, any development in this part of the city will be consistent with the Dixie Hwy model. The LDC would have helped any future development be consistent with the downtown model.

    Do you think Dixie Hwy is what Russell needs? Will it improve the standard of living? Because the folks along the Dixie Hwy corridor are scrambling for something different. They *hate* it and think they deserve better.

    Junky development breeds junky development.

  10. This exchange describes the encounter of best design principals with arbitrary political power. Arbitrary power wins and causes an identity crisis in those who have hoped planning rules informed by modern concepts of equity, sustainability, livability would be enforced.

    The crisis in Louisville cannot conveniently be addressed by a limited vocabulary of site specific urban design values.The WalMart decision is a manifestation of the underlying ‘containment policy’ that apparently gripped the resilient, white male dominated decision makers here predating 1994 and Cornerstone 2020. These fossil thinkers are still around and controlling today, Moving Louisville closer to River Ridge and moving the zone of affluence and enterprise east past Floyds Fork. They are still loath to actually develop opportunity in a broad democratic way in the captured, black West Louisville.

    A broader language that includes concepts of racism, structural and intentional, is applicable and necessary. The facts of widespread homelessness, unemployment, mass incarceration and fundamentalist religion are not addressed by proximity to (broken) sidewalk, and cannot be disposed of in a fair evaluation of WalMart as an ‘economic development’ step for West Louisville. These aspects of the problem made the offense against adopted planning and development rules merely an added insult to injury, to me.

    When Louisville (regional politicians) caught sight of the River Ridge industrial park and its development potential, they turned the state upside down to build a toll bridge connecting the East End to the pot of gold. They could see the need and cultural diversity of West Louisville as an asset if the colored glasses would fall from their eyes. It remains to be seen if the last chance to revitalize the West End in a broad democratic way, in a way that restores what decades of racism inflicted, has irrevocably passed. Building a supercenter that exports profits and provides a less than living wage is not defensible as tailored to the circumstances. That we are incensed that it doesn’t look like a store in Chicago is less ‘the good fight’ and more farce.

  11. Mr. Hixson’s rambling rant aside, building a chain-store in the West End that is similar to others around the city is not really about grand social engineering. It is just a store. It is simply a large retailer entering into an under-served neighborhood with affordable prices and reasonable variety. There are not many places in the West End to shop for basic items at affordable prices. Walmart generally offers basic things like groceries, paper towels, socks, and sandpaper at prices that are lower than those at most other stores. In a lower-income neighborhood, that is a nice convenience and an asset. That is why the city is paying Walmart to build on this long-vacant lot that no one else wanted. Furthermore, the urban fabric of Broadway was torn apart years ago with plenty of suburban-style developments already in place. Please face reality: a suburban Walmart really does fit with the rest of the street, and, as in other neighborhoods, most people will drive to this store (most people don’t want to carry a 12-pack of paper towels on a bike).

    Also, Mr Hixson wrote, “The facts of widespread homelessness, unemployment, mass incarceration and fundamentalist religion are not addressed by proximity to (broken) sidewalk, and cannot be disposed of in a fair evaluation of WalMart as an ‘economic development’ step for West Louisville.” Huh? I am not certain that he even makes complete sense. The best numbers that I could find, though, do indicate that there are about 3000 homeless people in Louisville on a given night. While that is far too many, it is a very small percentage of a city with a population of around a million people. It is hardly widespread homelessness – exaggeration does not help an honest dialogue. Also, “fundamentalist religion”? How does being a church-goer negatively impact the West End or Louisville in general?

  12. Mr Bailey, I was complaining that both the article and the later comments neglected to discuss the social context and the underlying dynamics that make it necessary for the government to offer a WalMart SuperCenter as a ‘reinvestment in the West End’ project. That context is critically important for social change in the community and urban designers look like ivory tower intellectuals or mere drones for economic development when they cannot address the aspects of ‘structural racism’ and intentional racism that have operated in Louisville. This perspective merely echoes the 20-Year Action Plan for Fair Housing:

    “Residential patterns are neither accidental nor the result of individual choice. They developed over
    generations of policies and practices that included (1) widespread denial of mortgage loans to people of color
    in suburban areas whose [white] residents resisted diversifying,
    (2) the routing of highways through African American and poor neighborhoods resulting in large-scale
    displacements, [Good bye Walnut Street] (3) land-use policies that confine multifamily housing to small areas of the county and (4) persistent [white racists] housing discrimination and massive cutbacks since the 1980s in subsidized housing even in times of high unemployment.” Page 5, Making Louisville Home for Us All.

    Urban planners I argue miss the point and even mislead readers when they spotlight the variance allowed to ignore setback rules. Further, your characterization, “its just a store” “a nice convenience and an asset,” simply separates WalMart from its corporate history and global status. There is not enough room here to discuss the maquiladoras and poverty wage manufacturers around the globe who go home to wretched hovels after working long hours to make cheap products. The concentration of enterprise and its profits into a global elite creates the political clout that can walk right over established land development rules. Just regular old store owners can’t do that.

    Religion spreading in poverty areas is a topic not usually engaged by the local commenters. I have made the comment before that the West End is held back by putting desperate poor and impoverished people in church pews day after day creating this long tradition steeped in ‘humility and obedience’ to God. The formalities of religious observation can intrude massively on the lives of the poor where training and tools would better serve. Islam for example makes five daily prayer times a pillar of faithful obedience. The large church congregations in the West End will bring social change when they shut the prayer book and march in the street. But they have accepted too much government money and aren’t marching.

  13. “So you think ANY option is better than no option. Which is, I think, where we differ. The current proposal establishes from now forward that, from this corner south, any development in this part of the city will be consistent with the Dixie Hwy model. The LDC would have helped any future development be consistent with the downtown model.”

    Archintent, we do not have an “any” choice.

    What we have is Walmart versus…nothing. I live here. We live here. You are not hearing us.

    Our community has been underserved and abandoned. In this case, it is a better option than no option, because West Louisville has functionally had no option for nearly 15 years.

    “Do you think Dixie Hwy is what Russell needs? Will it improve the standard of living? Because the folks along the Dixie Hwy corridor are scrambling for something different. They *hate* it and think they deserve better.”

    The Dixie Highway corridor does not have the low per capita nor the unemployment nor the economic and social problems of the 40203, 40210 and 40211 zip codes, so yes…even the working-class southwest part of town is an apples and oranges argument.

    Even lowly Walmart with its (soon to be) $9/hr. wages for entry-level employees will be an improvement in neighborhoods with 20+ percent unemployment. That is what your cohort of folks are not getting.

    If you thought so much of our neighborhoods, surely someone should have presented a worthy proposal before now. You and others did not. Please allow us the space to help our communities and place it on a path of development and growth.