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Originally published January 6, 2012 at 7:51 PM | Page modified January 6, 2012 at 7:51 PM

Walmart to fill long-empty site in Bellevue

Plans for the 106,000-square-foot former Kmart building in Bellevue's Kelsey Creek Center include the city's only Walmart.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes Walmart will get 100s of applicants, despite its predictable critics. Read more
quotes "Those rights include getting a decent wage, getting decent health-care benefits... Read more
quotes That site has been empty for years and years. If you dont like Walmart dont shop there... Read more

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For a decade, the hulking facade of a vacant, 106,000-square-foot Kmart has dominated Bellevue's Kelsey Creek Center. But when local residents found out plans to revamp the site include the city's only Walmart, some weren't pleased.

"We believe that workers in America have rights," said Tom Geiger, spokesman for UFCW 21, which paid for an ad published in the Daily Journal of Commerce on Thursday challenging what it calls the retail chain's bad business practices. "Those rights include getting a decent wage, getting decent health-care benefits, getting a voice in the workplace and getting respect from employers."

The new 64,000-square-foot Walmart will share the space with an L.A. Fitness scheduled to open in March. The Walmart, which will primarily be a grocery but offer some discount items, is scheduled to open in late 2012 and should employ about 95 people, company spokesman Steven Restivo said. It received a permit to start working on the store Friday, according to the city of Bellevue, though the developer received approval to work on the exterior earlier.

Local supporters of a national UFCW effort, Making Change at Walmart, showed up at developer PMF Investment's offices Thursday to protest the store's opening. The approximately 30 people attending represented a coalition of about 15 local community organizations.

"They're perpetuating the cycle of poverty," said Danielle Friedman, who does political advocacy work for the Statewide Poverty Action Network, a member of the coalition. "I think people are really concerned about it."

The developer directed questions about the company's retail practices to the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant.

The future of the site has been up in the air almost since Kmart closed in 2002 when that company filed for bankruptcy. Costco Wholesale bought the site and initially planned to launch Costco Fresh, a new grocery concept, there, but the plan was scrapped in 2003.

"We are very pleased to see that a new retailer is going into the shopping center," said David Grant, spokesman for the city of Bellevue, and added that the city "is not in a position to approve or deny a permit based on the merits of one company versus another."

Because of the Kelsey Creek Center's decadelong struggle to fill the site, the community seemed eager to see something take its place, said Michael Chen, a land-use planner at design firm Group Mackenzie, who helped plan the site and attended some public hearings on the topic.

"It'll be a great amenity to the neighborhood," he said. "The old Kmart was kind of an eyesore."

When controversy accompanies a new Walmart opening, it doesn't usually affect sales, said Restivo, the company spokesman.

"That fact will be clear when thousands and thousands of Bellevue residents shop that store on the day that it opens," he said.

Members of the coalition seemed resigned to the store's opening later this year, though they hope to persuade the company to provide employees with higher wages and better benefits.

"I do wish it wouldn't open, but I guess that's not going to happen," said Pramila Jayapal, the executive director of OneAmerica, an immigrant-advocacy organization.

And as Restivo put it:

"If we open a store in Bellevue and no one comes, we'll have learned a really important lesson about Bellevue," he said. "We just don't think that's going to happen."

Lark Turner: 206-464-2761 or lturner@seattletimes.com.

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