Church will have that shopped-in feeling

City OKs plan for unusual use of old Walmart building

Sept. 21, 2012

Greenfield - The Ridge Community Church can now make its new home in the soon-to-be-vacated Walmart store.

On Tuesday, the Greenfield Common Council approved the church's site, building and landscape design plans, clearing the way for the congregation's acquisition and remodeling of the old Walmart building at 4500 S. 108th St.

About 60,000 square feet would be used by the church, which would lease out the remaining 50,000 square feet to retail tenants or offices.

Walmart itself will move into its larger super store under construction around the corner in late October.

The church plans to close on the property in November and start work immediately, said the church's lead pastor, the Rev. Mark Weigt. The congregation hopes to hold its first worship service there in late winter or early spring.

Not church-like, at all

The exterior won't look like anything suggesting a church - and that was a conscious decision, Weigt said.

The goal was for the building to fit in with the commercial feel of the area. In addition, the church wants to attract commercial tenants for the northern section of the building, and many of those types of tenants would rather not have religious images on buildings, he said.

"We understand that," Weigt said, acknowledging the idea that commercial tenants want people to feel that they're in a shopping area. "And we respect that."

Currently, the congregation of about 500 leases space at Whitnall High School for worship services. This will be the congregation's first home of its own.

Welcomed re-use of big-box

The city is happy to have the church take over the Walmart store, even though the church portion will be exempt from property taxes, said Mayor Michael Neitzke.

While some have criticized the loss of property tax revenue, Neitzke said, "The total economic value of that corner has increased substantially with the new Walmart."

Besides, under federal law, the city couldn't consider tax impact when evaluating the church proposal - only site, landscape and traffic issues, he said.

Some have wanted another big-box store to move into the building, but Neitzke doubted that could ever happen. Serious traffic issues would arise if a big-box store moved in right next to the new Walmart super store, he said.

"The church traffic and parking pattern nicely complements the site," he said.

Neitzke said the city will benefit in many ways from the church coming.

"Cities spend tons of money to get people to visit, and we're going to have another 500 people come to our commercial corridor to worship and hopefully to shop," he said, also noting that the building will look better than it did before.

Park parking and green ideas

In fact, the church will see what it can do to help out the city.

There isn't enough parking for Little League games at Kulwicki Park, 10777 W. Cold Spring Road, and the church is exploring allowing Little League parking in its lot and providing a path from there to the park.

"They didn't ask us, we asked them what the needs are in that location," Weigt said.

When city officials expressed a desire for parking relief at the park, "we said we could do that, and we'd be happy to do that," Weigt said.

Neitzke also called the path to Kulwicki a win-win.

Alderman Karl Kastner also appreciated the additional landscaping to be added to the building's south side. With the new neighboring Super Walmart, that side of the building is now very visible and very in need of sprucing up, he said.

"It'll look a lot better than it does now," Kastner said.

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