After a testy and failed rezoning battle, Walmart is finally open on Parleys Way on Salt Lake City's east bench.
Although its grand opening is slated for Friday, the big-box retailer opened earlier this month for holiday shopping. The renovated building, once occupied by Kmart, also includes a grocery section and pharmacy, as well as merchandise Walmart is known for, said spokeswoman Delia Garcia.
Walmart lost its bid last year to rezone the property at 2705 E. Parleys Way. It would have allowed the Arkansas-based retailer to construct a new building that would have been smaller and more energy efficient than the 40-year-old Parleys Way structure it now occupies.
Vocal opponents and supporters turned out at Salt Lake City Planning Commission meetings. Some residents said they did not want big-box retail in their neighborhood. But others said they wanted the convenience Walmart brings with its large array of products.
In the end, planning commissioners voted 6-1 not to rezone the acreage, making known their distaste for big-box retail. The City Council upheld their recommendation.
The lone favorable vote for a Walmart rezone was cast by then-Planning Commissioner Charlie Luke. One year ago he was elected to the City Council and represents that area.
A smaller, more attractive building would have been better, Luke said. "It turned out in a way that I don't think anybody should be surprised."
Rezone or not, it was clear there would be a Walmart at that location, Luke said.
"Last year when the rezone failed, I talked to people who thought [Walmart] would pack up and go away," he said. "But they own the property and are entitled to be there."
Councilman Luke Garrott said he voted against the rezone because he doesn't believe Walmart, or any other big-box retailer, belongs at the site. Rather, he would like to see what he describes as a "walkable" commercial area with small, locally owned businesses, as is outlined in Salt Lake City's Master Plan.
"Walmart succeeds because of prices and convenience," he said. "But there are costs to local communities," he said referring to low-wage jobs and dollars that leave the state.
Council Chairman Soren Simonsen also voted against the rezone for similar reasons. But, nonetheless, he said the retailer will bring tax revenue into the city that most likely would have been lost to big-box retailers in Salt Lake County.
Simonsen maintained that refurbishing the existing building was an environmentally friendly thing to do because otherwise it would have ended up, piece by piece, at the landfill. "Using an existing building is a pretty green thing to do," he said.
Walmart will not be at the Parleys Way location forever, Simonsen said. He pointed to some economic models that suggest rising fuel costs will ultimately spell doom for big-box retailers who must ship merchandise around the country and around the globe.
"We'll be patient, and in the meantime, Walmart will conduct business."