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Old Walmart can go to church

City allows rezoning as plan advances

July 24, 2012

Greenfield - The Ridge Community Church might come before the Greenfield Plan Commission as early as its August meeting with architectural plans to transform the soon-to-be-vacated Walmart store into a church.

The Greenfield Common Council, following a public hearing, last week approved the needed rezoning for the property at 4500 S. 108th St.

The congregation plans to buy the old Walmart building, make 60,000 square feet of it into a church and lease out the remaining 50,000 square feet to retail tenants or offices.

Tax revenue concerns

Discussion by alderman and hearing attendees partially focused on how property taxes would be impacted by the development.

Whatever portion that is both used and owned by the church would not be subject to such taxes.

Walmart, which is building a new store around the corner from its current site, paid nearly $170,000 last year to all taxing units, with about $52,000 going to the city and $72,144 going to the schools.

Alderman Tom Pietrowski cast the only vote against the rezoning, saying the property is too valuable to take part of it off the property tax rolls.

"I just can't see this being a good site for that use," Pietrowski said, noting that Walmart's investment in the neighborhood reinforces his feelings of the property's strong commercial potential.

The pastor promised the church would voluntarily give a payment in lieu of taxes to make up for the city's loss of tax revenue, though that promise does not extend to the schools or other property taxing units.

At the hearing, church members said the presence of the church would build business in the area so city government would eventually gain tax revenue.

No one from the public spoke against the rezoning itself, although two people emailed their objections, which were read at the hearing. Both were troubled by the loss of tax base.

No big-box tenants

But James Purcell, building team leader for the Ridge, suggested it's unrealistic to think that the entire building could ever be occupied by another major retailer. The reason is two-fold, Purcell said.

The major impediment is a new access road that will cut across the front of the southern part of the current Walmart building. The road will connect the new Walmart to Highway 100, but at the same time it would make the old Walmart site undesirable for major retailers, Purcell said.

The other impediment is restrictions for getting in and out of the parking lot, he added.

"It would be difficult for any major retailer to take the whole space," Purcell said.

That's why the church will take the southern part of the building, leaving the northern more desirable section for tenants, which would use taxable space, he said.

Steve Anderson, president of the Anderson Commercial Group, said he is negotiating with mid-box stores for that northern space.

Good church location

While Alderman Karl Kastner agreed that the property is prime, he said churches have often been on main streets, both in Greenfield and elsewhere around the U.S. and Europe.

And their architecture makes them something people can be proud of, Kastner added.

Church members said the community will generally benefit from The Ridge.

Matt Ruddat of Greenfield said the church will be a valuable addition to the community. Since he lost his parents, Ruddat said, "The Ridge has changed my life and going there I've seen it change other peoples' lives."

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