October 5, 2004

Wal-Mart to Open in Ithaca

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The construction of South Meadow Square, which will include a new Wal-mart, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Bed, Bath and Beyond has been going on since the summer in southwest Ithaca on Route 13.

Wal-Mart construction started this past July and though the store was originally expected to open in late October, the opening date has been pushed back to the spring of next year.

According to Mia Masten, Wal-Mart’s regional community relations manager for the Northeast region, the store will be a regular Wal-mart discount store, with a garden center, optical center, pharmacy, tire and lube express and snack bar. There will be no grocery section.

The developer’s plans had to follow certain standards for sidewalks, parking and landscaping. The developer also had to build a small bridge crossing the nearby flood release channels so customers can move through shopping sites without having to get back on Rt. 13. The City of Ithaca Planning Department reviewed and approved the plans.

“Most people within the community are cognizant of the fact that the city is in financial trouble and we need to attract businesses and bring in sales tax,” said Joanne Cornish, deputy director of the city of Ithaca Planning Department and environmental planner.

She said Wal-Mart and the other stores will be good for the city by increasing the tax base and allowing people to spend money in the county.

“The theory is that the city will get a lot of sales tax revenue from Wal-mart,” said Mike Taylor ’05 (D-4th ward).

According to City Controller Steve Thayer, Wal-mart is expected to bring in $37,000 a month in the form of sales tax. He said that they hope that over time the revenue will overcome the $10 million capital cost that has been put into repairing the infrastructure of Southwest Ithaca in the form of sewer mains, water and new streets.

The new stores will also create more jobs. Cornish estimates that about 850 jobs between Lowe’s and Wal-mart will be created.

“This is a free country. American consumers should be entitled to get the best deal possible. It’s not fair to consumers to force them to spend more at independent businesses. [Wal-mart] will provide much more tax revenue for the city .” said Mike Lepage ’05, president of Cornell College Republicans.

“Their company policies toward workers disturb me, abusing overtime rights and not letting workers unionize,” said Tim Lim ’06, president of Cornell Democrats. The Wal-mart Living Wage Campaign, which first met in late August, is focusing on pressuring Wal-Mart to pay a living wage.

According to Patrick Young ’06, president of Cornell Organization for Labor Action, one of members of the coalition, they are discussing buying billboard space and talking to Wal-Mart about improving wages.

According to the Alternatives Federal Credit Union Livable Wage Study, in 2002 the living wage in Tompkins County was $8.68 per hour for one adult for a 40 hour work week.

“We’re concerned about the fact that they don’t pay their starting workers a living wage when they can afford to do so,” said Peter Meyers, of the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition.

Ithaca mayor Carolyn Peterson said that she has met with the new Wal-Mart manager to talk about fair wages and employment hours and options.

“Now that [Wal-mart is] coming to Ithaca, it’s my job to work with the manager to create a Wal-mart that serves our community well,” Peterson said.

The new Lowe’s is being built fairly close to the existing Home Depot, which is located across from Buttermilk Falls, the site Wal-Mart intended for their store in 1990.

However, the planning board said that the location was not appropriate for a big box store because it would block the view from Buttermilk Falls.

“Lowe’s is the second biggest retailer in the country; we do compete with them,” said Don Harrison, spokesman for Home Depot.

The complex will be directly behind K-mart as well.

“Sometimes it’s good to have more competition, it can bring a lot of customers who are driving between stores,” said Jim Smith, assistant manager of Kmart.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Staff Writer