Mayor: Potential downtown grocers waited for Walmart vote

Larsen Green site

GREEN BAY - After the Green Bay city council voted 6-5 early Wednesday morning, denying Walmart’s request to build a downtown supercenter, the question is how long might the 15-acre parcel lay vacant?

Well, according to Green Bay’s mayor, it might not for very long.

If not Walmart, what? And when?

It’s the type of place where you’re either a regular – or you’re not.

Lenny’s Tap has called North Broadway home for years and seen the area’s economic barometer ebb and flow.

"Since my parents bought this place in 1975, there was Schneider Transport, Dean Distributing, Larsen's, Fairmont Dairy, & Northwest Engineering were all here," said Lenny’s Tap owner Marty Leonhard.

Those businesses are all gone, now. Same goes for the hundreds of workers that would frequent Leonhard’s watering hole.

While not much has changed inside his bar, Leonhard says the same unfortunately goes for the property across the street – known as Larsen Green. He says if Walmart isn’t the answer, then what?

"It's been said that the city has plans, and people lining up to get in there, well, where were they last year? Where were they six months ago, when it all started?" said Leonhard.

Development takes time

"When we have some control over that property – still – it's going to take a couple years before we find the right development,” said Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt Wednesday morning. “I mean, things take time."

The city's recently-revised master plan and zoning calls for urban development of the site, with a combination of office, retail, residential and commercial options. The mayor floated three concepts last month as alternatives to Walmart’s plan – which he is against.

For nearly a year, Walmart has been eyeing the land for a 154,000-square-foot, one-story supercenter.

Schmitt says it would take at least three years to find the right developer. However, he told FOX 11 getting a grocer to commit to a downtown store is much closer.

"Some of the people were waiting to see the decision that was made (Wednesday morning) and that's something that we'll follow up on," Schmitt said.

"Does this mean that this other group is interested in (the Larsen Green property), specifically?" asked FOX 11’s Bill Miston.

"We talked about that site,” he replied. “There's one that's interested, in a much smaller, section of that property, right? It's not – you sure as heck don't need 15 acres to build a grocery store."

Loan coming due

On Broadway, Inc., the Broadway District's business improvement arm, owns Larsen Green. On Broadway bought the property in 2007 for $6 million – with $3 million guaranteed by the city.

"The bank has contacted the city, some time ago," Schmitt said, "saying, we don't have confidence that (On Broadway, Inc.) is going to be able to make this balloon payment that is coming due and is the city prepared?" to take over the property.

And Schmitt says the city is.

"We're proud of how we've carried ourselves and how we marketed that property,” said On Broadway’s Executive Director Chris Naumann. “And anybody who says that is just looking for an excuse to take a shot at On Broadway."

Naumann says despite last night's city council vote, the ball is still in Walmart's court. Walmart's planning option for the North Broadway site expires Aug. 25.

"I think we're disappointed. We're disappointed, but, again, it's really the community that's going to be missing out," said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia early Wednesday morning, after the city council's vote denying Walmart's re-zoning request.

Garcia was non-committal when asked if this was the Arkansas-based discount retailer's last time coming before the council.

"We've expressed to the city council that this was the site that we were looking for and they've decided on that site."

Naumann says the property's monthly loan interest payments total more than $11,500

"You don't think On Broadway is going to be able to make that balloon payment?" FOX 11’s Bill Miston asked Naumann.

"There's no way it's feasible,” he said. “We could have farmers markets for 30 years and not have enough, so it is what it is and we'll just have to keep working through the process."