Walmart's Midtown Miami Plan Sparks Anger, Confusion -- and Surprise Support

There's nothing quite like the impending invasion of Arkansas's finest low-rent retailer to inspire fiery emotions in an up-and-coming neighborhood. (How many other chains have sparked angry documentaries and legions of dissenting groups?)

Ever since Riptide broke the news yesterday that Sam Walton's brainchild is planning a huge new outpost in midtown, residents and business owners have reacted with predictable anger and skepticism -- along with some very unpredictable love for the chain.

The dozens of comments on our posts and New Times' Facebook page are nearly evenly split between boosters and trashers of the idea.

Many are furious.

Writes commenter Shirley Temple: "GROSS. Stay the fuck away. Walmart kills local business and pays minimum wage. They are an environmental disaster. Ugly buildings, ugly parking lots. Ew."

From another reader, Benny Bolet: "That's what we need, more low quality crap made purposefully cheap so you are forced to buy said product again."

But many others agree with former Assistant City Manager Frank Rollason, who argued yesterday that Walmart could bring hundreds of jobs to an area hit hard by the recession -- and bring cheaper goods and groceries on top.

Count Amir Ben-Zion, owner of Gigi, arguably the hippest eatery in the neighborhood, among the believers.

Ben-Zion dismisses complaints that Walmart would hurt midtown's "image" -- an argument made by the Miami City Commission in 2005 when it rejected a similar bid by the retail giant.

"If you're that insecure about the neighborhood, that's a big problem to begin with," Ben-Zion says. "I don't think there's any threat to the 'cool element' in the neighborhood, which is very overplayed anyway... The cool places are open at night, not when Walmart will be packed."

Ben-Zion argues that the millions of dollars Walmart will invest in developing a vacant corner will only add value to all the other businesses in the neighborhood.

"We're all hard-working and heavily invested in this corridor," he says. "It's a big compliment that a company as big as Walmart is so interested in building a store here."

Others aren't so sure.

"This will ruin all of the independent stores that are popping up in this neighborhood," writes a reader under the name Miss Brache's. "I'm in the middle of trying to open my small business in that area. It will kill the vibe my business is going for."

Either way, midtown residents and fans might not have too much say in the end. Walmart spokeswoman Michelle Belaire tells Riptide the site south of Petsmart is already properly zoned for the retailer -- all that's left is approval of construction plans.

The store could be up and running by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink