Havre Daily News
Havre City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing implored business leaders on Monday night to work with Wal-Mart officials to protect and enhance downtown if the chain decides to build a store in Havre.
Wal-Mart said last month it is considering a site on U.S. Highway 2 west of town for a store. Ron Harmon, the local businessman who is working on the deal, said today that he hasn't been informed of a decision. A Wal-Mart spokesman did not return a call today seeking comment.
Harmon is working with Frontera Development Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that brokers deals between chain stores and local landowners. He said he recently spoke with someone at the company who told him no decision had been made.
"They're working on it," Harmon said. "They have a lot of other things on their plate. I think at this point it can go either way."
Mayer Lossing said she has heard "plenty of horror stories" about how Wal-Mart can decimate small businesses and doesn't want that to happen here. She said that if the company does decide to build, business owners can take positive steps to work with Wal-Mart officials to develop a partnership to help revitalize the downtown area.
"Havre and Hill County need to be proactive, not reactive, to the changes coming into our community," Mayer Lossing said. "I have seen article after article on how Wal-Mart destroys small towns and I don't want to see that happen here."
After seeing a commercial detailing how Wal-Mart and downtown businesses were able to coexist in Gastonia, N.C., Mayer Lossing e-mailed Gastonia's mayor. The town already had a strong downtown revitalization effort going on before Wal-Mart moved in, and community leaders were able to convince Wal-Mart to become a part of that, Mayer Lossing said. Those sorts of ideas need to be discussed now, she said.
"If the community doesn't want the downtown to dry up, they should start coming together with these ideas," she said. "It's something everyone should be working on, not just the city and certainly not just the (Havre Area Chamber of Commerce). If you try to do something after the fact, it never works."
Mayer Lossing said there needs to be more discussion about a tax increment finance district, which would collect funds to be used for future downtown development projects. Fellow council member Terry Schend has been working with other council members over the last year to study the possibility. Mayer Lossing also said a Main Street organization, which would specifically work to revitalize the downtown, could be formed.
"This is a community thing," she said. "Havre needs to start banding together on things like this. Local government can play a part, but it really needs to come from the downtown area. I think we can have a strong downtown.
"We can say, 'Hey, you're moving into this community. We'd like to have the choice, the jobs, the increased tax base, but we want you to be a partner,'" she added.