Walmart Meeting: Midtown Community Bitterly Split Over Big Box Retailer's Still Secret Plan
|courtesy of Walmart|
|A preliminary sketch for a Walmart in Midtown|
In reality, however, the two-hour event was a wrestling match over the future and priorities of the neighborhood, with community members largely split along racial and class lines.
"Upper and middle-class people in Midtown can afford to say: 'We don't want Walmart,'" said Marilyn Denson, an older African-American woman who lives nearby. "But when it comes to the poorer people in the community, we need a store in this area that we can afford to shop in."
Also read our breaking coverage of Walmart's Midtown invasion and the project's early problems.
"In this economy, we need the jobs," she added after the meeting.
Walmart couldn't have said it better itself, but the megastore still tried. "We can be part of the solution for residents who want more job opportunities and affordable grocery options close to home, many of whom are now going out of their way to shop and work at Walmart," it said in a press release.
Denson spoke up several times during the event, which was led by Francisco Garcia, Planning Administrator for the City of Miami. Each time she did, her comments were applauded by half of the room.
"Give it a chance," said a middle-aged African-American man to the more skeptical members of the audience. "You gave Midtown a chance in the first place. Now give this a chance."
But others at the meeting lobbed tough questions at Garcia amid concerns that the zoning proposal will be the first step in the "suburbinization" of the neighborhood.
"How does this affect our pedestrian neighborhood?" asked local resident and business owner Jacob Pfeffer. "Midtown is going to become more like a strip mall."
Walmart has not officially filed any plans for developing the massive lot between 30th and 31st streets, Garcia said. But the big box store has held informal talks with the city. Because nothing official has been filed, there aren't any public records available -- making this meeting a proxy war for a much bigger battle looming on the horizon over whether or not Walmart belongs in inner-city Miami.