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Proposed Waldo Walmart Sparks Community Response

Monica Sandreczki

The redevelopment of each closed school building in Kansas City, Mo. tends to draw a small group of concerned residents.  And that was the case for the old Bingham Junior High School property, at 77th and Wyandotte in Waldo. Until Walmart came knocking.

The school closed in 2001, and, ever since, has been considered an eyesore by many area residents. Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS)accepted several proposals for development of the property, including a Hen House and a community center, before bringing an offer for a Walmart Neighborhood Market before the community in January. (A "Neighborhood Market" is more like a grocery store, rather than the typical Walmart Supercenter.) The proposal sparked a wave of responses from residents and the Waldo Business Association.

Walmart As Catalyst For Neighborhood Response

Angie Liles is a business owner and on the board of the Tower Homes Association in Waldo.  Like a lot of other residents, Liles admitted she wasn’t paying much attention to the repurposing process of the Bingham School until Walmart came along.

“The way I see it, [Walmart] was the catalyst," said Liles. "Because it really got people thinking about what they wanted to see in that space. Before they were just seeing the blight…[and] there are many people who are in support of the store because they really want to get rid of the eyesore.

"They’re tired of waiting and I can understand that. But over the course of going against Walmart, a lot of people have come forward with the same feelings, and they actually have resources, and they know how to get financing and they see a community use for that property, just as much as I did. It’s almost like we all got fired up.”

Liles added that she does not like Walmart’s business practices. Others are concerned about how the store will compete with local businesses, or that it will bring a lot of traffic to a spot that’s more residential.  Still, other residents see that spot as commercial already, and would welcome Walmart’s low prices on groceries. 

School Board Weighing Support For Proposal

According to Shannon Jaax, director of the Kansas City Public Schools Repurposing Initiative, the school board is still evaluating support for Walmart's offer.

“Revisions have continued to be made to the proposal based on the feedback we’ve received from the business community and the neighborhood association,” said Jaax.

She added that Walmart has agreed to limit its hours, and participate in the Community Improvement District (CID). If there seems to be some community agreement on the proposal, it will go to the school board for a vote, and then the Kansas City City Council would need to rezone that plot of land.

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KCCurrents podcast.

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.
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