If an Ohio-based developer has its way, newly flourishing midtown Miami's newest tenant will be a 160,000-square-foot Walmart. The behemoth discount center would cover the five-acre spot just south of Petsmart on North Miami Avenue and would become the first Walmart inside Miami's city limits.
But that's assuming Miami's political establishment is more welcoming than it was in 2005, when the city commission refused to allow the king of big-box discounters to set up shop in midtown.
Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty (or DDR), which developed the Shops at Midtown Miami, owns the vacant land south of NW 31st Street and bordered by North Miami Avenue and NE First Avenue.
In a release touting plans to turn the site into a Walmart, the firm says the store would "further establish Midtown Miami as a dominant shopping and entertainment destination in the city."
But it's not clear how far along the approval process DDR has gotten in trying to clear Walmart for the neighborhood.
Marty Richmond, a spokesman for DDR, didn't return multiple calls from Riptide seeking comment. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes midtown, also didn't return a call.
The company originally tried to include a Walmart in the Shops at Midtown in 2005, when the complex was still in the planning phase. But a coalition led by then-Commissioner Johnny Winton put the brakes on the idea.
"This site is not one we want to be known as a Walmart site," Winton told the Miami Herald at the time.
Midtown's image has been burnished in the past year-and-a-half as hip eateries such as Gigi and Sugarcane have set up shop and nightlife hotspot Bardot has flourished across the street. How would a big, neon-lit Walmart change the neighborhood's vibe?
At least one former city leader thinks Miami's politicos might be more receptive to Walmart this time around. Frank Rollason, a former assistant city manager, says Miami's economic death spiral gives the big retailer an opening.
"Right next to Midtown, you have a very poor residential neighborhood. You think those folks don't need jobs? You think they wouldn't work at Walmart?" he says.
Walmart critics, of course, charge that the giant retailer saps business from local stores by undercutting prices, while underpaying its workers. Rollason, at least, doesn't buy that argument.
"The theory is they're going to hurt mom-and-pop businesses, but where are all the mom-and-pops in Midtown Miami?" he says. "I can't feel sorry for one big-box store going up against another, especially if it brings jobs to the area."
Update: Michelle Belaire, a spokeswoman for Walmart, confirms that the store is working on an architectural proposal for the site.
Walmart has yet to file any paperwork with the city, she says, but the company expects to officially apply for construction permits by the end of the year.
"We're working with our architects, engineers, DDR and city staff to ensure we can deliver a state of the art facility," she says. "It's going to be consistent with the architecture in Midtown Miami."
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Belaire offered a few more specifics on the plan as well. The store would have a full grocery, 350 employees and might include a two-story parking garage. The site is already zoned for a large store like Walmart, she says.
Walmart has been wanting to build in Miami's city limits "for years," Belaire says. "We have nine stores in Dade County, but the city is under-served."