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Wauwatosa, meet Meijer

Sept. 19, 2012

The art of economic development could be compared to a delicate evaluation of a prospective dance partner. The analysis often includes issues such as availability, appearance, compatibility, and finances.

City of Wauwatosa, I'd like you to meet Meijer.

Meijer is a 78-year-old, Michigan-based grocer/retailer who pioneered the one-stop-shop Super Center concept in 1962. Meijer has asked the city to approve a 157,000-square-foot grocery and retail facility at the southeast corner of Burleigh and 112th streets. This property contains the vacant Stroh Die Casting building and a former car dealership, part of a long desolate stretch of real estate with enormous development potential.

Meijer would like to create a multi-store presence in the metro Milwaukee area, having made applications for stores in Franklin and Grafton earlier this year. Are they a good match for Wauwatosa?

I see several positives to the introduction of Meijer here in Tosa. First, they fill a significant portion of what many have termed a vast wasteland along Burleigh.

Second, they are not asking the city for any financial assistance; in fact they could create $17 million of taxable property value (using Target as a comparably sized business). With current property tax levies frozen, this is the only way to grow our tax base.

Third, they will add a significant number of jobs to our community to staff their 24-hour-a-day operation.

But some have asked if this area needs another grocery store, a very valid point with the recent introductions of Walmart, Aldi and Pick 'n Save on Mayfair. Can the existing concrete expanse be turned into sufficient greenery? Will the building create an inviting "wow" factor to this important gateway into Wauwatosa from the west? What will be the impact on traffic, particularly from the east on Mayfair Road?

I invite you to take a broader, visionary look at how Meijer fits into an emerging retail destination on the west side of Wauwatosa. The computer store Micro Center has purchased the property to the immediate west of the Meijer plan. Negotiations continue on the proposed Mayfair Collection retail center to the north of Burleigh. Add in the Lowe's complex and we see the formation of a vibrant Burleigh corridor. Now add in the Mayfair Road retail corridor and the flagship Mayfair Mall and a shopping destination emerges, with stores unique to Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

Let's take our image one step further. The County Grounds to the south of this retail haven includes an equally impressive and emerging business corridor along Highway 45, with the Medical Complex, Research Park, GE Healthcare and a future UWM Engineering School. Add in your favorite creative development in the northwest quadrant of Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road and a workplace destination emerges, with jobs in the life sciences, technology, research and education fields.

When you combine a retail destination with an employment destination, the result is not only a place to shop and work, but a place where people want to live. And that is a good image for a vibrant and growing Wauwatosa.

Meijer has evaluated Wauwatosa as a dance partner and likes what it sees. As we do our diligence on Meijer, let's ask the tough questions but let's also consider how Meijer fits into the vision of how we want Wauwatosa to look and grow.

Alderman Jeff Roznowski represents Wauwatosa's 6th District.

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