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The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin)


Last Thursday, Walmart turned down Michael Johnson's self-described "long shot" idea to donate the recently closed Sam's Club on Madison's west side so it could become a regional sports complex.

He's disappointed, but Johnson hasn't given up on the project yet.

Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, received a letter from Walmart's executive vice president of real estate that said Walmart did not plan to donate the building, but would consider an offer from the Boys and Girls Club.

"The immediate goal for this location is to secure a market transaction which fits with the intended future use of this building," the letter said. "We have determined that your current proposal is inconsistent with the defined parameters for the sale of this property."

Johnson lobbied hard for the idea after it was announced that the Sam's Club at 7050 Watts Road was one of its 63 stores that would be closing nationwide. Sam's Club is a division of Walmart Stores.

In January, Johnson sent a letter to Walmart headquarters asking the company to donate the building to the Boys and Girls Club instead, with the goal of turning it into a sports and job training complex. He also asked the company to provide a lead investment and a Walmart space planner to help redesign the site.

The plan had gained support from several local leaders. In January, Dane County Supervisor Carousel Bayrd, District 8, and Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said they backed the plan. Last week, staff from Gov. Scott Walker's office contacted Walmart to discuss the idea.

Johnson said he is disappointed that Walmart won't donate the property, but he's not abandoning the idea. By saying they would accept an offer, they left "wiggle room" to negotiate on a price for the site, he said, which would hopefully mean a lower price for the cause. In 2017, the property was assessed at $6.7 million.

"They could have just said, ?Thanks, but no thanks,'" he said. "I wouldn't say it was a done deal yet."

Johnson responded to the letter by asking for a face-to-face meeting with Walmart's CEO or vice president of real estate.

"I'm disappointed, I'm going to digest it over the next day or so," he said. "I would just say we'll see where it goes."

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February 15, 2018


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