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Thrifty plan meets with resistance in Greenfield

Panel asks St. Vincent de Paul to alter aspects of proposed store at old Walmart

Feb. 18, 2014

Greenfield — After a lukewarm reception before the city's Plan Commission last week, the St. Vincent de Paul Society will revise its plans for a retail thrift store in part of a former Walmart store.

The commission had multiple concerns, including how well the thrift store would blend in with The Ridge Community Church, which occupies more than half of the 110,000-square-foot building at 4500 S. 108th St.

St. Vincent de Paul representatives will present new plans at the March 11 commission meeting to make the proposed facade more complementary to the exterior appearance of The Ridge, which also owns the property.

The church plans to lease 50,000 square feet, of which St. Vincent de Paul wants to occupy 35,000 square feet.

Thrifty neighborhood

The Plan Commission discussion also included whether a special-use permit should be granted, given that another retail thrift store, USA Family Thrift, would be next door.

There was some feeling that the potential conflict between the two could leave one building underutilized and detract from the overall prime commercial corridor. A public hearing on that issue would be necessary.

Deborah Duskey, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Milwaukee, said Tuesday that the site was chosen because of the bounty of traffic on Highway 100 and its proximiuty to a bus line. The thrift store next door would be helpful to shoppers because they tend to go from one to another, she added.

But too many thrift stores in close proximity concerns Alderman Karl Kastner, who sits on the Plan Commission. Besides USA Thrift, there's Goodwill on Oklahoma Avenue in West Allis and Bethesda Thrift Shop just south of Edgerton Avenue in Hales Corners, he noted.

"I think that's a little bit of saturation," Kastner said, who wondered aloud whether some will whither away and create unwanted vacancies.

Right atmosphere

Also, he suggested that thrift stores don't help a community's image, he added, likening them to pawn shops.

Duskey stressed that the charitable organization is aware of the high standards of both Greenfield and The Ridge Community Church, so it plans to design the store's interior to mimic a department store.

The organization operates three such stores in Washington County and shoppers have said the ambience reminds them of stores like Kohl's, she said. Also, the merchandise in the Greenfield store would be gently used and perhaps include new merchandise, she added.

Kastner said St. Vincent de Paul is a good organization that does good work, but, "that doesn't mean it's the right thing for the neighborhood."

But it could be, said Mayor Michael Neitzke.

Though acknowledging that other retailers might provide more vibrancy to the commercial corridor under different circumstances, St. Vincent de Paul has offered to make facade adjustments to satisfy concerns, the mayor noted.

"They could come back with something that looks great," which in turn would help satisfy those who worry about the city's image, Neitzke said.

Tax-like payment offer

He also noted that the organization has said it would give a voluntary payment in lieu of taxes that would equal the city's share of property taxes. The Ridge church has made the same pledge.

"If they do it well, I think that can be a good thing," Neitzke said of a St. Vincent de Paul store.

Regardless of those payments, the city is still way ahead of where it was tax-wise when Walmart operated there — any tax base lost at the old site has more than made up by the new Walmart built just around the corner on Layton Avenue and Highway 100, Neitzke said.

Still, Kastner reaffirmed a previous point — that the site could have been redeveloped with higher ideals in mind, whether that would be a hotel, offices, restaurants or even a business center. Even now, the current building could be better used for a restaurant, a medical clinic or offices, Kastner said.

However, none of those issues will be the focus of the Plan Commission's review of St. Vincent de Paul's revised plans, the details of which are not yet known.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: next Greenfield Plan Commission consideration of a special use permit for the St. Vincent de Paul Society to establish a retail store in part of the former Walmart at 4500 S. 108th St.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. March 11

WHERE: Greenfield City Hall, 7325 W. Forest Home Ave.

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