It’s a near-certainty that the architectural style of a 24-hour Walmart Supercenter has never been described as analogous to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood.
There’s a first time for everything.
That’s the type of experience the Cheektowaga Planning Board told architects for the nation’s largest retailer that they expect from a massive new store proposed for the current site of the Super Flea & Farmers’ Market, 2500 Walden Ave.
Planning Board Chairman John Marriott said he wants to experience a “warm and fuzzy feeling” when walking into the new store, and he was getting far from that vibe Thursday evening when developers presented their much-anticipated first designs for the project to the board.
William Gary McCamy, an architect with Bergmann Associates of Rochester, unveiled preliminary sketches for the site and outlined plans for Walmart to develop a concrete and stucco building.
McCamy was sent “back to the drawing board.”
“It’s a cold and not very hospitable-looking design. I don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling it’s a nice place to be,” Marriott told McCamy moments before drawing the comparison to Wright. “The [Martin] house sort of surrounds you as you walk in.”
Marriott wasn’t the only one unhappy with the early sketches.
Council Member James P. Rogowski, who has expressed a desire for Cheektowaga to get a “Walmart as nice as Hamburg or Amherst or Lockport,” made a special appearance at the meeting to throw in his two cents.
Rogowski, who said he isn’t “against Walmart,” favors a brick facade instead of the less-expensive concrete.
“What we’re asking is the best you can provide to the residents of our town to shop at your store,” Rogowski told McCamy and Marc A. Romanowski, an attorney representing the project’s developers. “As a council member of the Town of Cheektowaga, I’m not going to accept anything less.”
Added Rogowski: “I want this to be the best in the United States, and if you can give me that, I’m sure we can make a deal.”
Officials for Walmart politely listened to the comments and suggested they were willing to work with the town to find an agreed-upon design.
McCamy said Walmart isn’t looking to “replicate” what it built in Hamburg or Amherst.
“That’s their store. We don’t want to do that,” McCamy said. “Let’s look at something that fits the community and fits the neighborhood and introduces the softer elements [of architectural design].
“It’s not how much money you spend, it’s how you use the materials.”
Still, McCamy admitted, cost is a factor.
He said the building designs in those other communities were “all overboard” and “ran up construction costs.”
“When costs go up, as you well know,” McCamy told the board, “it gets passed on to the consumer.”
Town resident Dave Burkhardt suggested that was OK. “I’d be willing to pay a little more to go to a nicer building,” he said.
Burkhardt said he and others often travel to the Walmart in Lancaster or Hamburg rather than shopping at what he described as a subpar Walmart at the Thruway Plaza.
“If you want to build a Walmart in Cheektowaga, you’ve got to make it look nice,” Burkhardt said.
The Planning Board tabled plans for the Walmart until its December meeting. In the meantime, Walmart officials will meet Wednesday with members of the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee.