Residents concerned about Walmart in Denver redevelopment plan

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DENVER -- A couple hundred people turning out for a public meeting Thursday about a controversial re-development project in Denver.

Neighbors want the area at E. 9th Ave. and Colorado Blvd. redeveloped--but they don't want the Walmart store that comes with it.

It was standing room only at the more than two-hour meeting at National Jewish Hospital.
The developer, Jeff Fuqua, presenting the 28-acre project that will bring about 40 retailers, including a dozen restaurants, a natural grocer, and a 325-unit luxury apartment complex.

But it's the main anchor of the $180-million project that's the major stumbling block. This, even though, Walmart makes up just 13 percent of the project.

Some residents say they have a problem with Walmart's business and labor practices.
Others worry about the increased traffic it will bring.

The site has languished for nearly 10 years.

A previous developer couldn't get the project done and sold to Fuqua.

"It's been in the process for 10 years. People have been trying to develop it, with a second group spending millions of dollars trying, it's a very complicated thing to do," says Fuqua.

And it's made more complicated because while neighbors love most of the 40 retailers, including a dozen restaurants, a natural grocer and a 325-unit luxury apartment complex--they hate the Walmart slated to go in.

"In the midst of the worst recession in 75 years, we can't have a gun held to our heads to take Walmart or nothing at all. This is about getting through the recession and building a sustainable community," says Congress Park resident Denis Moynihan.

Moynihan represents a grassroots group called "Stop Walmart Colorado," and he's got support.

Some residents at the meeting worry about Walmart's business and labor practices.

Here's what else.

"How do we know that you promise that there will never be any guns sold?" asks one woman.

Fuqua says they will sign a contract to guarantee that.

"Have you decided if it’s going to be a 24-hour Walmart yet?" asks another.
A Walmart spokesman says, "Yes." That they will operate under the same rules as other Denver companies, including two King Soopers grocery stores on each side of them.

Another resident worries about the toll the project will take on traffic.

But the developer says traffic will be less than a third of when the medical campus operated at full capacity.

Fuqua says Walmart is a critical component to the project and without them, everything could fall apart.

He says they are the only large format retailer willing to invest funds to comply with the extensive design requirements, which includes fully-secured, below-ground parking with a pedestrian escalator and shopping cart transport system, signage restrictions on size and brightness and significant exterior upgrades.

The store also won't have an outdoor garden center, a drive-thru pharmacy, or a tire and lube store.

Fuqua says this isn't your typical Walmart.

"People have this vision of a suburban Walmart like you might see anywhere. This is not that store in any way, shape or form. This store is half that size. In this store, you park underneath and enter the store through an escalator system," he says.

Fuqua also says residents need to keep in mind that the degradation on the vacant site will likely get worse.

CU says it can't keep paying the nearly $63,000 a month to maintain the property.

Also, the Veterans Administration hospital will be moving out of the neighborhood in 2015, adding another 50 acres of emptiness.

The next public hearings are Sept. 6 and Oct. 4 at National Jewish.

Plans call for the project to be complete in late 2014 or early 2015.