One more Wal-Mart in Rockford

Wal-Mart intends to increase its presence in Rockford. Another location—at the intersection of Alpine Road and Linden Road—is on the city’s WallyWorld horizon, added to the locations on East State Street, East Riverside Boulevard, West Riverside Boulevard, plus Belvidere’s and the upcoming Roscoe location.

But the new location’s future is still up in the air. Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) voted to lay over a development agreement between the City of Rockford and Peoria-based Wald/Land Corp. at the April 3 City Council meeting.

Holt cited preventing a suspension of procedural rules as the reason for his layover vote.

According to Ald. Victory Bell (D-5), any item laid over must be voted on at the next meeting.

In addition, he had reservations about the agreement when it was approved during a March 27 Codes and Regulations Committee meeting.

Holt also vowed to vote against the agreement for intersection improvements at Alpine and Linden roads, which would clear the way for the development’s second phase, at the upcoming April 10 City Council meeting. He said he thinks the improvements should be entirely Wal-Mart’s responsibility, without the city’s initial outlay, despite the agreement for reimbursement by Wal-Mart.

City Administrator Jim Ryan said the developer must fulfill some promises for the project to proceed. Ryan said the developer bears the responsibility for improving the intersection of Alpine Road and Linden Road.

Wald/Land Corp. President Russell Waldschmidt said the agreement spells out the necessary improvements.

“They told us what they wanted after seeing the traffic study,” Waldschmidt said, after the March 27 committee meeting.

He submitted an estimate of $811,451.25 to the committee. City Public Works Director Bill Bittner said city workers would do the work and be reimbursed by the developer.

Holt wasn’t happy with the price.

“Their estimate is 25 cents higher,” Holt said.

He stressed the agreement stipulated costs wouldn’t exceed $811,451, and city staff had assured him of that as well.

Waldschmidt quickly offered the city some financial assistance.

“I’ll put 25 cents on the table now. Geez,” Waldschmidt said.

He said he didn’t know what to make of Holt’s objection.

“I’m not really sure I understand his reaction. But I think he was looking out for the city,” Waldschmidt said.

Despite Holt’s reticence, Waldschmidt said other committee members seemed comfortable with the estimate. He said a 15 percent contingency as well as “an ample amount” to cover utility relocation was included in the estimate.

“Basically, the city gets a free intersection,” Waldschmidt said.

He confirmed Wal-Mart will be the development’s primary retailer and housed in a 200,000-square-foot building. Waldschmidt said the development could also include a 27,000 square-foot building as well.

According to Waldschmidt, Nicor Gas owns the project site. He said that, in part, has affected the development timeline.

“It was a longer process than might have actually occurred with a private party,” Waldschmidt said.

But Holt isn’t the one concerned about the Wal-Mart development. Rockford native Heidi Gonzalez, 44, spoke out against the project during the meeting.

“Rockford doesn’t need another Wal-Mart,” Gonzalez said.

She raised concerns about how the store could affect traffic, since there’s a school in the area. Jefferson High School is about a quarter-mile from the site of the proposed project. She said she was concerned Wal-Mart would be a gathering place for students, and wondered how the business would potentially deal with the students. Gonzalez said she’d requested a traffic study, but never received a copy.

After the meeting, she said she and her husband circulated a petition and got 150 signatures, submitting them earlier. But Gonzalez said it didn’t elicit much of a reaction.

“It doesn’t seem to matter to the City Council. It didn’t have much of an impact,” she said.

Gonzalez, who grew up on Rockford’s west side, said Wal-Mart has had an impact on family-owned businesses in the area. Though the stores are now owned by corporations, she said she remembered when Logli and Hilander were both locally owned and operated.

According to Gonzalez, the city’s Legal Department told her it was pursuing the Wal-Mart development to generate more revenue. She promised not to contribute her shopping dollars.

“If they move in there, I’ll stop my Wal-Mart shopping altogether,” Gonzalez said.

From the April 5-11, 2006, issue

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