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Walmart walks away from proposal that would have placed retail giant in Independence
Dec. 5, 2011

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

INDEPENDENCE, MN – A proposal that would have brought retail giant Walmart to Independence has been “tabled indefinitely,” according to City of Independence officials.

A special meeting of the Independence City Council took place Tuesday night, with the main agenda item being discussion of tax increment financing (TIF) related to the proposed development of a 30-acre area at the northeast corner of Highway 12 and County Line Road in Independence.

TIF is the ability to capture and use most of the increased local property tax revenues from new development within a defined geographic area for a defined period of time without approval of the other taxing jurisdictions, such as schools and counties.

However, before the council could get into the specifics of TIF, it learned the proposal to build a 140,000-square-foot big box store had been pulled.

“We thought there was no sense in even talking about it because part of the TIF agreement was to be with Walmart,” Independence Mayor Marvin Johnson said later in the week.

Johnson said the meeting likely would have been cancelled had the council known the proposal was pulled.

The agenda for the special meeting outlined a letter of support regarding the proposed West End Retail Development, a resolution approving a preliminary agreement regarding the development, and a resolution calling for a public hearing on the proposed establishment of a TIF district related to the proposed development.

No action was taken on any of the items.

Independence City Administrator Toni Hirsch said property owner Larry Palm did not give any reason the proposal was pulled, other than to note staffing changes within Walmart, which has led to them not being as aggressive about pursuing development in this area.

Hirsch said now all Independence can do is “sit and wait and see what happens.”

“We’d had inklings along the way,” Johnson said. “He (Palm) was trying to keep them interested. It sounded like they weren’t pressing him. He was trying to keep them interested in the property. Evidently, they had other locations they were working on the fast track.”

After the proposal was pulled, Hirsch said city officials again approached Ryan Companies, which develops Target stores, asking if Target may be interested in coming to the area.

Hirsch said the answer that was received was that they may be interested, but not for three years. She said the city won’t wait three years, but noted, to her knowledge, no one else has expressed interest in developing the property at this time.

Johnson said there have been hurdles in developing the property – including getting utilities to the site, and also a zoning issue with the Metropolitan Council. However, he said now the zoning is in place to develop the site.

“If anything does come up on the property there on the border, 75 percent of the time element is complete,” Johnson said.

Delano City Council said “thanks, but no thanks” Nov. 1 to an offer from the City of Independence, which requested, for the second time, a utility extension agreement between the two cities for future “big box” development.

In 2008, officials from both cities negotiated and worked toward a utility-sharing agreement that was not approved by either municipality, as Independence pulled the request at that time due to fiscal disparities and tax impact ramifications.

Delano Mayor Dale Graunke, Council Member Dan Vick, and City Administrator Phil Kern met regarding the proposal Oct. 12 with Independence Mayor Marvin Johnson, Council Member Lynn Betts, Hirsch, and the Independence city planner.Palm was also in attendance.

Johnson said his reaction to the pulled proposal is a “mixed bag,” adding that some people don’t want “big box” in their backyard, while others are favorable to a store development in that location. Johnson said he is also sensitive to the local business community and wants to keep existing businesses viable.

“I hope we can eventually work something out with the City of Delano,” Johnson said.

“The land isn’t going to go away,” he added. “I’m not that disappointed something happened (with this proposal), but it would have been fun to see something go in.”

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