Story updated with additional reporting.
Walmart has abandoned plans to open a store in West Louisville.
“After much deliberation and consideration of various business factors and extensive delays to the project, we have decided not to pursue development of a new store in West Louisville at this time,” Kevin Thompson, Walmart’s director of public affairs and government relations, said in a statement. “We commend the visionary leadership and ardent support of Mayor Fischer who has been an advocate and champion for the West Louisville community since we began this project nearly three years ago. We remain committed to serving our customers throughout the Commonwealth and look forward to continuing to innovate our services and invest in improving our existing stores throughout the region.”
The national big-box retailer planned to invest more than $30 million in a new store at 18th Street and Broadway. The store would have employed 300 people.
Despite Louisville’s Board of Zoning Adjustment unanimously approving design plans for the Walmart, the project was stalled when a group of preservationists, planners and activists filed a civil lawsuit against Walmart, Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government and NewBridge Development, the company that owns the property Walmart wanted to build on.
Last November, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens dismissed the case, but it was appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The appeals court has not yet ruled in the case.
Steve Porter, the attorney representing the groups who filed the lawsuit against Walmart, said his clients will drop the lawsuit once Walmart withdraws its application to develop the property in West Louisville.
Porter added that the lawsuit could have been dropped months ago if NewBridge Development agreed to sign a document stating that they would develop several building, or outlots, up against the sidewalk along Broadway. City design standards for that area require buildings to abut the sidewalk, but Walmart got special approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment to construct its store on the backside of the property, placing a large parking lot between the street and the storefront.
Building outlots would help bring the property into compliance with the existing neighborhood aesthetic, Porter said, and help block the view of an expansive parking lot.
“This could have all been taken care of months ago,” he said.
When asked what role the lawsuit played in Walmart’s decisions, Anne Hatfield, with Walmart’s corporate communications division, said: “Plans to develop this store began several years ago, since then our customers needs have evolved so we want to make sure we are serving them the best way.”
Hatfield wouldn’t say whether Walmart would consider opening a store in West Louisville in the future. There are seven Walmart stores within 10 miles of the 18th Street and Broadway location, she added, and the company is opening another on Outer Loop.
“We are going to continue to look for opportunities. We will always do that,” she said.
Right now, Walmart is focusing on investing in employees as minimum wage around the United States continues to rise. The company also is building 200 training academies for new employees, including one in Louisville.
The retailer also recently introduced grocery pick-up in Louisville and a payment system called Walmart Pay nationally.
“We want to make sure we are evolving,” Hatfield said. “We want to make sure we are meeting customer’s needs.”
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Mayor Greg Fischer said “99.9 percent” of the community wanted the Walmart project to happen, and he placed the blame at the feet of Porter and his clients.
“The frustrating truth is, had it not been for the lawsuit brought by a very small group of citizens, Walmart would be open today,” said Fischer. “18th and Broadway would be a busy, active place… instead it sits as a vacant and empty lot. It’s a testament to some people’s insistence that progress must only be made on their terms, even if it’s just a very small group of citizens. Instead of thinking as most citizens do that the most important goal of any project is to serve the greater good of the entire community, not just a small group.”
Fischer added that the time taken up by the lawsuit killed the Walmart deal, as over the course of the past two years the company has shifted business strategy to emphasize e-commerce over physical stores.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell also blamed the plaintiffs and Porter, calling the lawsuit “appalling” behavior perpetrated “by a few people who had no interest whatsoever in West Louisville.”
Though Walmart’s statement praised Fischer for his efforts to make the project happen, Teresa Bridgewaters of NewBridge Development issued a statement Friday that appeared to also lay the blame on Metro Government, saying, “It is devastating that the city allowed this to happen.”
Fischer responded to Bridgewaters’ statement by saying he understands there is “a high level of frustration here, but the bottom line is the city cannot control the courts and until the case was resolved, Walmart was not going to move forward. They made that very clear to us.”
The mayor also attempted to highlight other positive development of late in the West Louisville, and said his economic development team at Louisville Forward would be “putting a spotlight” on the “very desirable piece of property” that will remain vacant for the time being.
“The bottom line is we’ve got a wonderful piece of property along one of the most important corridors in our city, so some good news will be happening on this piece of property at some time,” said Fischer.
Staff writer Joe Sonka contributed to this report.