Should Super Wal-Mart come to Fort Lauderdale?
By Marie Carrie Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Central County Community Advisory Board (CCCAB) met on April 17, 2013 to discuss the development of 36 acres of land on the south corner of Broward Blvd. and 27th Avenue.
Riverbend Marketplace is a 90 million dollar proposed retail center with Wal-Mart Super center serving as the anchor store for various retail establishments.
In order for the project to move forward, the Gatlin Development Company (GDC) needs the Broward County Commission (BCC) to redesignate 24.6 acres on the southeast corner of the property from medium-high residential to commercial.
The role of the CCCAB is to make a recommendation to the BBC on whether or not to approve the measure and move forward with the development.
This issue, among several others was on the Board’s agenda at the Broward County Urban League where the meeting took place in the Community Empowerment Center located at 560 N.W. 27 Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
Among those present were Robert Lockerie, attorney for the Gatlin Development Company; Frank Gatlin, founder and CEO of GDC; Michelle Belaire and Ernest Smith, Wal-Mart executives; Brian Johnson, CEO of the Minority Builders Coalition; Randy Johnson, owner of Tater Town; Dale V.C. Holness, Broward County Commissioner District 9; and various members of the community.
After initial agenda items were dispensed with, the Board opened the discussion with a presentation by attorney Robert Lockerie on behalf of GDC.
Lockerie and Gatlin described in detail the proposed project and fielded questions from the Board and community members.
Board member, Reverend Jesse Scipio, asked about plans to ensure that members of the surrounding communities would make up a large percentage of those employed during and after construction.
According to the Riverbend Marketplace proposal, 600 permanent full-time positions will be generated and over 600 construction jobs will be created.
In response, attorney Lockerie stated, “We (GDC) have already partnered with the Urban League. We will be having our job fair for the facility at this location.”
In addition, Gatlin expressed plans to work with local minority owned construction companies to employ as many community members as possible.
“Within a five-mile radius of a new store, a temporary hiring facility will be set up 90 to 120 days before that store grand opening, so that we do our on-the-job training and our hiring through that facility,” stated Wal-Mart executive, Michelle Belaire.
Following the discussion on hiring, one member of the community asked if there would be employment opportunities for those with a criminal record. Ernest Smith, a Regional Director for Wal-Mart Human Resources, stated that criminal background checks are conducted by a third party company that decides if the applicant is eligible for employment with Wal-Mart.
“It could depend on where the offense was actually created and the charge; so those two things combined will make a determination on whether or not they would be employed,” said Simth.
On the other hand, Frank Gatlin stated emphatically that in terms of construction jobs, people with criminal records are completely employable and will have access to jobs through the project.
During the meeting, another concerned citizen asked if commitments from other retailers had been secured. Gatlin stated that companies such as T.J. Maxx, Ross, Marshalls, Panera Bread, Radio Shack etc. have all expressed interest, but the issue will be deciding what’s best for the community.
Mr. Gatlin and GDC have a history of creating successful retail centers throughout the United States, always utilizing community input throughout the process. To further show his personal commitment to the project, Gatlin shared that he is not only the developer, but he is a resident of Fort Lauderdale along with his family.
While the Board and com-munity members expressed concerns about the project, there were representatives present who shared positive perspectives about the development.
Brian Johnson, President and CEO of the Broward County Minority Builders Association, spoke briefly and stated, “So far this feels different. They’ve been very very receptive and they’ve been very introspective into the common needs that we have to ensure that local communities benefit economically.”
Randy Jesus of Tater Town also expressed a favorable view of the project. “This is, I think, something very positive for the community. I know the community’s behind it.”
However, he goes on to state a lingering concern for many, “But we also need to look out for the existing businesses and how they can grow.”
To conclude the discussion of the Riverbend Marketplace project, Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness stated that he was not ready at this time to offer his support and outlined several issues that still need to be addressed.
First, how involved and represented will Black-owned businesses be in this project; i.e. Black architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors?
Second, how will changing the zoning from mixed-use to commercial impact the com-munity; and thereby eliminate the creation of affordable housing that could be built on that property?
Third, how will the increase in traffic on Broward Boulevard and 27th Avenue be addressed? Will additional turning lanes be added or new traffic patterns created?
Finally, Commissioner Holness stressed, “We don’t just want talk. Some good faith document is needed, not just someone’s word. Over time what they say can be changed.”
Clearly, the issue of bringing the first Super Wal-Mart and retail center to Fort Lauderdale is more complex than just dollars and sense!