Well, the information was fast and furious yesterday as Whole Foods announced its plan to abandon building a new facility in Lakewood and instead remodel the old Minyard’s building at Gaston and Abrams. We had lots of comments, passionate and thoughtful, about what this decision means for the neighborhood, why it came when it did and, of course, a little finger-pointing/wagging about who should be blamed/praised and why.
Just a little background for those of you too pre-occupied with your real lives yesterday to read every word of the voluminous posts: Here’s a quick update and simple "click here" guide to who was saying what. Among the many people weighing in on the decision were Scott Simons, WF’s marketing point guy out of Austin; Jeff Siegel, our contributing editor; and some comments from Jeff and city councilwoman Angela Hunt, who met with WF a couple of days before the decision was announced.
And this morning, we received another email from Simons, who offered an even-more-detailed explanation for what happened and why. Here’s what he had to say …
I just read your update on the site and appreciate your take on it. You may publish this email on your site if you wish, because I feel that a lot of speculation on this decision is being made and I want to be clear on why we’re choosing to renovate.
As you and I discussed on the phone late yesterday afternoon, this decision came about due to a number of factors, and the Planned Development District challenge was only one of them.
Did the PD issue with the city planning offices contribute to the decision? Absolutely. Do we feel that the City of Dallas was trying to put roadblocks up on the project? Absolutely not. The city has their due process for every issue that comes up, and sometimes those processes take a while. That’s just the way it is. We don’t feel that anyone was maliciously trying to put up roadblocks; not in the least.
Our decision to renovate rather than rebuild is a business decision based on a number of factors:
1. We’ve been paying rent on the existing property for quite a while. That rent we’ve been paying is overhead that we have been absorbing. Even though it certainly didn’t show up in a physical way to the neighbors, we’ve been investing in that property for some time.
2. We spent a great deal of time attempting to unravel a very complex set of construction circumstances, including two different legal properties on the city block where the store sits and two different landlords who had their own requirements for their own properties.
3. It took more than a few months for our legal council, engineering firms, design firms and other vendors to help us come to a conclusion on what type of building we could possibly build for this site that would make the neighbors happy, allow us to run a profitable store, and make the City happy. This was all before we could even begin the design process of the building itself.
4. We had to undertake a thorough research of the neighborhood to make sure what we designed would be positive and offer things the neighbors would enjoy, such as outdoor dining, green spaces and a rooftop deck, not to mention what would go inside the store.
5. And then the initial architectural design process. Another couple of months, minimum.
6. We have a great track record of building new stores that respond to the neighborhood in a thoughtful way and are truly sensitive, both environmentally and structurally. We’ve built amazing and thoughtful stores in Austin, Manhattan, London and even Sugar Land. We thought our reputation for delivering beautiful stores preceded us. We now see that the neighborhood may have had some challenging development issues in the past that possibly made folks untrusting of any company, no matter the circumstances or history of doing business in the area. We believed that we had a great reputation in East Dallas because we’d been in business for so long there, and that our community giving and business practices spoke for themselves. We thought our design would be received very positively across the board and we would be able to move very quickly with construction of the proposed new building.
7. We’ve received a lot of emails and phone calls from neighbors, independently, asking us to get the store open as soon as possible. And I mean a lot! From what we’ve heard, they do not want to see that building sitting empty for another six months to a year.
8. During our neighborhood meetings, one thing that we’ve heard very clearly is that the neighbors would like to see us take the most environmentally sound path when it comes to this new store. Remodeling the structure and reusing what is already there is much more environmentally sound than a tear-down and rebuild. It is a better fit with our Core Values as a company and our green business practices.
9. It is no secret that the process for a zoning hearing was expected to take longer than anyone had hoped. All of our experience pointed to the process being from 6 more months to up to one year, simply based on our experience in navigating these types of things. And it is normal. However, after this much time and expense, we simply cannot afford to wait another year, and what we’ve heard from many of the neighbors is that they don’t want us to wait another year either.
So, at the end of the day, we’re talking about a business decision. And as a for-profit, publicly-traded company, we are bound to make business decisions that benefit all of our stakeholders: our team members, our stockholders, our customers and our neighbors.
I hope that this sheds a little more light on our decision, and I’m sorry if our original correspondence wasn’t as clear. We had tried to make our explanation as simple as possible, and in truth, our decision was not a simple decision…it was a very complex decision that needs a more complex explanation.
I saw one comment on your site from Kelly, a reader/neighbor talking about how we can take an existing structure and make it look much better, and not to give up hope that we can do something good with the building that exists. Kelly was right on the money. We are committed to doing what we can, within the city’s guidelines, to make the new Lakewood store beautify the neighborhood and be something the neighbors will be proud of.
Just because we’re remodeling doesn’t mean we’re giving up on making the neighbors proud of their new Whole Foods Market store!
Scott Simons | Marketing Team
Whole Foods Market Southwest
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