Without a word of debate yesterday, a City Council once bitterly divided on the issue approved Chicago’s third Wal-Mart — at 83rd and Stewart in Chatham.
After authorizing just one Wal-Mart in the last six years, the City Council has now signed off on two in the pat month — with more to follow as part of the retailer’s $1 billion Chicago expansion.
The 41 to 4 vote was a long-awaited victory for Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), who had waged a six-year quest for a Wal-Mart, only to be leapfrogged by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) in the Wal-Mart sweepstakes.
Aldermen Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Eugene Schulter (47th) and Joe Moore (49th) cast the only no votes.
“I’m glad it’s over. It seems like it’s been ‘Ground Hog Day’ for the last six years. Every day, I woke up talking about Wal-Mart. Finally, we can start putting people to work in the 21st Ward,” Brookins said.
Asked what took so long, Brookins said, “Clearly, the unions had a stranglehold on the Council. And there was a perception that the . . . West Side [in Austin] was in much more desperate straits for economic development and job opportunities.”
Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said the company hopes to break ground on the 143,000 square-foot Chatham store early next year, open a hiring center next spring and open the store by the end of 2011.
He reiterated that the Chatham and Pullman Park stores would be the first of “several dozen” new Wal-Marts, large and small.
“Our real estate team is out evaluating opportunities across the city. We hope to have more sites to announce soon. But I can’t offer any more specifics than that,” Restivo said.
Moore said he thought about using a parliamentary maneuver to delay approval of the Chatham Wal-Mart because if Mayor Daley “wants it that bad, he could sign the document tomorrow. Why should we wear the jacket for it?”
But Moore ultimately decided against the temporary delay, well aware that Wal-Mart had the votes.
Last month, the City Council approved a second Wal-Mart in the Far South Side’s Pullman Park community paving the way for a Wal-Mart expansion that could change the face of retailing in Chicago.
It happened after Wal-Mart and organized labor cut an unprecedented deal that calls for the world’s largest retailer to pay its starting Chicago employees at least $8.75-an-hour — 50-cents above Illinois’ minimum wage.
So long as Wal-Mart lives up to those terms — and its promises to hire community residents to work in its Chicago stores and union members to build them — the Chicago Federation of Labor will not oppose the expansion.
Since the Chatham site was already zoned for a big-box store, Daley could have gone around the City Council and approved the Chatham Wal-Mart with the stroke of a pen.
But the mayor wanted the City Council to go on record to send a message loud and clear that aldermen had been “educated” on the issue — and that Chicago was now open for business.
“No one questions Wal-Mart in the suburban area. . . . There’s no question at all about salaries, about whether or not they were good citizens. . . . In the county, 20 percent of sales tax comes from Wal-Mart. . . . We’d like to get some of that, too,” Daley said.