NO SUPER WALMART YES MOSCOW
Presented by Jeanne Leffingwell at the May 1, 2006 City Council Rezone Hearing

I would like to address the issue of whether or not Moscow has an adequate amount of land zoned for motor vehicle business and/or for large-scale retail establishments.

The City recently hosted a well-attended one-day conference addressing the issues of “Place Based Economy”. The keynote speaker, Becky Anderson, drew for us many insightful pictures about growing trends in marketing and tourism. One of her most powerfully illustrated assertions was that as we live, and as we travel, we seek authenticity, and not just the replication of that which is everywhere else. We desire culturally unique experiences and will spend money to get them. She went on to illustrate the amazing economic turn around realized in her very economically depressed part of our country, the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the mining, tobacco, and manufacturing economies have all fallen on very tough times.

This turn-around came about through capitalizing on the area’s unique “assets”, first the goods and services made by hand in the area, then its gardens, markets, foods, and other experiences. Now it is a thriving mecca for both its hard-working locals, and for more and more visitor to the area. Recent government studies of the area have proven that this approach has benefited the region economically and permenantly, in ways that to quote Ms Anderson, “can’t be clicked away.”

In our own part of the globe, think of the tiny burg of Harrison ID. How it has been “put on the map” by the efforts of those who worked to turn an abandoned and poisonous rail bed into a bike trail that now each year draws more and more visitors (and money) from inside and outside our region.

There are differing opinions about globalization, marketplace “trends”, and the value of land. But one thing is certain: There is a finite amount of land, and water around us. (This is after all why the price of real estate in general continues to escalate over time.)

As an artist and educator, I travel a bit in our region doing residencies for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, becoming part of different community. Often it’s long enough to get a taste of both its assets and its problems.

I have a short story to illustrate how our land use question is playing out in a community not too far away. I was recently doing a residency in eastern Oregon, just over the state line from Walla Walla & College Place in eastern Washington, an area with around 38,000 residents, two colleges, and much natural beauty.

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One evening in discussing area economics, my host had explained to me that their retail marketplace appeared to have outgrown the market goers, by allowing too much area to be zoned for large-scale retail business. One very large retailer had, in the last couple years, super-sized itself, and perhaps as a coincidence, perhaps not, the area’s nearby large retail mall had, in my host’s word’s, gone defunct.

I didn’t think too much of this until I had to go hunt down a common craft item I was running out of. I figured I could get at it this mall, which is much larger than our Palouse Empire Mall, (since it still had a functioning Shop-ko at one end and a Sears at the other.

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Wrong. I didn’t find the glue I needed, but I did see a huge acreage of empty parking spaces, and inside the enclosed portion of the mall, many more stores closed than open.

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Well, I still needed the glue I was after, and so visited the newly supersized "neighbor” where, sure enough, I found the glue, one-stop shopping, and big signs in the full parking lot which read, “We Ad Match”

Well, that’s Walla Walla and this is Moscow, and one can’t draw any conclusions.

BUT being rather a curious person, I decided to call up the mall manager when I got home, as some questions were nagging me. We discussed the mall, and I asked what the future plans might be. [There isn’t actually a general manager at this mall any more.] But I spoke to the “Assistant” manager, who was able to inform me, since it had just become public, that the mall, with the OK of their city government, was in the process of being transferred to new ownership, with corporate headquarters elsewhere. The “new” development will incorporate more “paving and beautification” and demolition of the existing interior mall, because “that’s the trend” Instead they will bring in bigger stand-alone box stores to ring the perimeter, with more parking spaces around each. [And distances to drive, in between them, I will guess.]

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Walmart parking lot
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ShopKo parking lot

Interesting aside:
Sold to POB Montgomery (owned by, Phillip Montgomery III, from Dallas TX, who – it’s amazing what one can find out with a few clicks – is one of the Pioneers, who pledged to raise a minimum of $100,000 for the first presidential campaign of GW Bush.)

Well, there are trends we might want to follow and I say, trends we may do better, in the long run, not to follow.

The trend to zone more and more valuable land to larger and larger retail businesses negates the opportunity to zone for more appropriately scaled mixed use. The trend to zone for businesses dependant on the automobile this day and age is short sighted indeed. The trend of thinking that large-scale retail motor businesses that cannibalize other businesses as well as their own existing stores in order to provide shareholder profits and minimum wage jobs… the trend of thinking this is right for Moscow… is a trend we should not follow.

I hope you will agree, and deny this request for a zone change to Motor Business.
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BIG BOX ORDINANCE
Moscow City Coucil Public Hearing
Monday June 4th, 7:00 pm, Council Chambers, City Hall.

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