There won’t be a Walmart in Zionsville anytime soon.
Is that good or bad? Depends on how you look at it. The view of a resident may be to preserve the small town feel. The view of town leaders may be to bring in as many dollars possible. If you’re a town manager, carefully straddling the fence between the two is the goal.
Zionsville — along with many towns across America — have sought the former. Walmart and other big box stores may bring in tax revenue, but residents would be trading more money for more traffic, more erosion of small town America, and more chipping away at what probably made them move to Zionsville in the first place: It’s NOT Indianapolis.
Keeping the Big Boys Out
There’s nothing wrong with preserving the elements of a town that make it unique. Clever and thoughtful solutions to generating other revenue streams are needed, and that’s what Zionsville’s leadership seems to be good at. Consider Zionsville Town Manager Ed Mitro’s vision of attracting other types of development, besides large big box retailers. He and the town planning commission have successfully attracted corporate, non-retail vendors, such as FedEx and Hat World. The town is so committed to keeping big retailers out they passed an ordinance in 2006, restricting new building structures to 60,000 square feet or less. The average Walmart is over 100,000 square feet.
Walmart has been around for a while and knows how to acclimate. Walmart’s Neighborhood Market stores are smaller spaces (averaging 42,000 square feet), carrying mostly groceries and often a pharmacy. They’re doing better than their supersized counterparts. A Neighborhood Market store just opened in Fishers last January. Perhaps this is how Walmart should approach Zionsville.
Zionsville needs only to look as far as the City of Lawrence on Indy’s northeast side for inspiration. At one time, big retailers tried to descend upon Ft. Harrison, a closed military base. However, careful planning by the Ft. Harrison Reuse Authority resulted in a perfect mix of architectural integrity, small retail shops, retained green spaces, and re-purposed military housing. This combination made Ft. Harrison a successful model in the base realignment and closure fall-out of the 1990’s. The City of Lawrence was unique in that it stayed vibrant and relevant after the troops moved out.
Know Your Audience
The key for both Zionsville and the City of Lawrence to making it work? Know your audience. Know what your residents want, then deliver. Rather than a numbers game — 60,000 square feet vs 4,200, vs 108,000 – the game should be quality of life.