I'm sure there are a few people in Lawrence like me who have been wondering just what this Wal-Mart debacle has cost us.
Some folks in Lawrence don't want Wal-Mart here at any cost. Others are ambivalent. Still others, me included, feel like the City of Lawrence changed the rules on Wal-Mart and should have kept its word. But I think all of us would benefit from knowing what might have been. I might add that I am not involved with this real estate transaction and that my comments are purely from a citizen's point of view.
If Wal-Mart had been allowed to build their store on West Sixth when they attempted to pull their building permit back in May of 2003, this is the likely outcome. The plan was already in place and the sizes approved, so had they been able to pull their permit, construction could have started almost immediately. So, there would have probably been a Wal-Mart there, open for business by May of 2004.
What would that have meant to Lawrence? The answer is tax dollars. The current Wal-Mart pays around $360,000 a year in property taxes, so there's over $1,000,000. And the average Wal-Mart generates around $375 per square foot in sales every year. Had the new Wal Mart been 100,000 square feet, the sales taxes (state and local), generated by now would be around $8 million. Had they been allowed to build their original plan of 132,000 square feet, the sales taxes generated would have been closer to $10.5 million.
We can't forget the hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have been saved in attorneys' fees and the hundreds of jobs that would have been created for some of our citizens who are willing to work for less than $9.50 per hour.
And yet here we are, three years later, implicitly tens of millions of dollars poorer, because we don't like Wal-Mart. That would have paid for a few potholes, a couple of bike paths and maybe even a few of our famous roundabouts. Heck, we might have even generated enough money to put a down payment on a new library. Maybe more importantly, we wouldn't have a stigma attached to our name as one of the most difficult towns in the country in which to locate a business. We'll never know what other businesses might have spawned from that store being there, and what businesses might not have closed had Wal-Mart been their neighbor.
Unfortunately, we can't go back. But we can move forward and finally do the right thing. We can do the right thing by keeping our word and righting a wrong, and we can move forward by showing businesses that we want them in Lawrence. And then maybe, a year from now, we can start reaping the benefits of our correction in bad judgment.