CHICAGO — Six weeks after Wal-Mart lost its bid for an Inglewood, Calif., shopping center, the world’s largest retailer won City Council approval on Wednesday for zoning changes that will allow it to build its first store in Chicago. A proposal for a second unit was one vote short of the required 26.
Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city, is a potentially lucrative market as Wal-Mart seeks to grow in urban areas. The highest-volume Target Store is said to operate on Elston Avenue here, along with a Home Depot that jockeys with a store in Yonkers, N.Y., for the chain’s top spot, said Neil Stern, senior retail analyst with consultant McMillan Doolittle, citing real estate sources.
The Chicago designs called for 150,000-square-foot stores without grocery. The project approved in a 32-15 vote is for 1657 North Kilpatrick Avenue in a largely black and Hispanic West Side neighborhood. The other store was proposed for an area at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue on the South Side. Twenty-five council members voted for it and 21 against. It was returned to committee.
Alderwoman Emma Mitts, who represents the West Side and supported Wal-Mart, said, “We needed the jobs.’’ The South Side plan appeared to be dead, she said.
Neither store was proposed as a supercenter, and there are no grocery jobs immediately at stake. But the Union of Food and Commercial Workers, the largest U.S. private sector union, has been trying to preempt Wal-Mart’s expansion into major markets such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
The union and other opponents allege that Wal-Mart depresses wages, damages local business and contributes to environmental problems and crime.
“We are very committed to serving these areas in Chicago,’’ said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Moore.
Moore would not divulge what Wal-Mart spent on the Chicago campaign, which included telemarketers and a lobbyist. “There are plenty of special interests out lining up to tell the Wal-Mart story, so we do our very best to tell the true story to our customers, shareholders and to our suppliers,” she said.
Wal-Mart had the support of aldermen representing the wards where the stores would be built, who pointed out each unit would generate several hundred jobs, lost-cost shopping and millions of dollars in tax revenues.
“We thought we had enough votes to win,” said Mitts. She helped lead a rally Tuesday night, with local ministers leading prayers.
Wal-Mart is fighting to build 40 supercenters in California over the next five years, despite legislative and legal challenges. Two supercenters, both more than 50 miles outside Los Angeles, opened this spring.
The company faces another test as the Los Angeles City Council votes on whether to ratify a proposed ordinance prohibiting retailers of more than 100,000 square feet with more than 10 percent devoted to nontaxable grocery sales in all city, state and federal economic assistance zones, or about 40 percent of the city’s land.
Building on both Chicago sites was contingent on getting the land rezoned from commercial to industrial. The West Side lot is an 11-acre parcel with an abandoned Helene Curtis shampoo factory, while the South Side property is a 50-acre site that contains a defunct steel mill.