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Published: 7/26/2001

Big-box bully yields to Wal-Mart

“Why would you change popular corners and intersections and replace them with box-like structures? It is ridiculous, it is absurd, it is mad, but this is America, and if you've got a buck, you can buy out whoever's there. Well, you're not going to do it without a fight in Toledo, Ohio.”

- Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, speaking of the Monroe-Secor intersection as he declared war against big-box drugstores, September, 1999

That was then, this is now.

The same mayor who took a defiant boxer's stance against big-box drugstores is the same mayor who recently opposed rezoning along Alexis Road for a big-box home improvement store.

But this week, he unclenched his fists to cast a tie-breaker rezoning vote clearing the way for a South Toledo Wal-Mart.

Go figure. The inconsistency seems peculiar.

Of course, there's something unique about the Wal-Mart site.

That 50-acre south Toledo parcel is a brownfield site, which is just another way of saying: One, you really don't want to raise your kids there, and two, good luck finding anyone who wants to undertake its costly abatement.

So, OK, let's agree that this chunk of South Toledo land which so epitomizes our economic existence - the manufacturing jobs are gone, but industrial contamination remains - is one tough sell.

But, still.

Tina Skeldon Wozniak, for one, urged her fellow city council members to take the long view when she urged holding out for nonretail commercial development - projects such as a technical center, or a professional park.

In the end, city lawmakers were divided, so Carty Finkbeiner strolled on down to council chambers for the first time in eons to serve his tie-breaking function.

Pete Gerken is probably Wal-Mart's biggest opponent on council.

He's the only council rep, anyway, to say that allowing Wal-Mart to open in Toledo would be “the moral equivalent of opening a whorehouse.”

To say the least, Mr. Gerken is disappointed in Carty. Like Ms. Skeldon Wozniak, he, too, had “hoped that the mayor could take a longer view on that [site] in terms of economic development.”

But the councilman says Hizzoner's position-shifting tap dancing is nothing new.

“His policies have been a patchwork for years. This is just another square on the quilt. It's inconsistent, how he can have a vision of us not being the stomping ground for major drugstore retailers and then turn around and open it up to Wal-Mart,” Mr. Gerken says.

O, Wal-Mart! Let us count the different reasons to rue your arrival.

Low, nonunion wage rates. Stingy benefits. Impact on locally owned businesses. Abundance of overseas goods from manufacturers running questionable operations. (Three words: Kathie Lee Gifford.)

Referring to a multimillion-dollar federal environmental fine, Mr. Gerken said Wal-Mart was “cited for construction practices, and now we're turning over a brownfield site to them.

“It's ironic, because one condition of the settlement was that Wal-Mart would do remediation of polluted sites elsewhere. We're actually helping them get off the hook for violating clean-water laws in other states.”

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Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays,

and Saturdays. Email her at roberta@theblade.com or call 1-419-724-6086.



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