Concerns about guns at Kroger, walkability and the store closing in the future cloud neighborhood’s view of deal involving library



DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

Kroger on Cedar Springs Road is among the supermarket chain’s most successful stores across the country, according to Gary Huddleston, Kroger’s southwest division spokesman. But with competition moving into the neighborhood, the company would like to expand and upgrade the store and add parking.

To do that, it needs the Oak Lawn Branch of the Dallas Public Library to move. Kroger officials have proposed moving the library to the second floor of the store’s planned expanded space.

Store representatives estimated that the land where the library now sits would add 100 parking spaces. But expansion of the store from the current building to Knight Street would take about 60 spaces. The expansion would add about 20,000 square feet, increasing the store by almost 50 percent.

But everything presented at a meeting at the library on Tuesday, Jan. 5 was preliminary.

“These are conceptual plans to improve the library and improve our store,” Huddleston said.

Kroger paid for construction of the current library before opening the Cedar Springs store. The former library sat approximately in the middle of what is now Kroger’s parking lot and needed to be moved to make the store feasible.

The current building is larger than the previous branch, but is technologically out of date and smaller than new Dallas Public Library branches, according to Jo Giudice, director of the Dallas Public Library.

The crowd that came to hear about the plans and ask questions overflowed the library’s meeting room.

“This is an illustration of why we need a bigger meeting space at this library,” Giudice said. “It will be at no cost to the city.”

That’s because Kroger would pay the cost of building the new branch and lease it to the library rent-free.

In addition to increasing the space by about 5,000 square feet, new construction would make the library more energy efficient.

But as questions began, one member of the community after another criticized Kroger for its gun policy. Kroger is the only major chain that has not banned open carry in its stores.

Huddleston said the store is just following the law, but several audience members pointed out to him that putting up a sign to ban open carry guns also follows the law. Other community members told him his store was the only one on Cedar Springs allowing open carry and is out of sync with the community.

Councilman Adam Medrano defended the store’s community involvement. He said the store responded quickly to his request to replace burned out lights around the property when he began working on increasing safety in the neighborhood after a series of attacks began in September.

Giudice said there would be more security in the location above Kroger.

Councilman Philip Kingston said the neighborhood cares a lot about the library, but he voiced concern about moving it from its current site.

“It doesn’t address the street well,” Kingston said.

Moving the library away from the street would take away from the neighborhood’s urban feel. A number of people attending the meeting addressed walkability and access to the neighborhood.

Kroger representatives seemed to think a wide open parking lot was what made the property walkable.

Few people in the room liked the plans presented. One called the new store something that would look good in Irving. Another said the library would lose its identity. And referring to its gun policy, one community member asked Kroger to “have more sensitivity to the neighborhood.”

Another concern was what would happen to the library if the supermarket closed in 10 years.

A Tom Thumb located across the street boomed without much competition for years. That store was renovated in the early 1990s and was gone within 10 years after Kroger opened.

A Kroger representative said the company would offer the library a 50-year lease, but details need to be worked out with the city attorney.

Still, he offered no real answer to questions about what would happen if Kroger closed that location or disappeared as a corporation.

Kingston noted that signing the property where the library is now located over to Kroger may not be legal.

While the land the library sits on may be worth $1 million, building a new library branch costs $6 million.

Huddleston said his staff took extensive notes at the meeting, and would be back with more detailed plans. He said the company hopes to open its enlarged Cedar Springs store with new library by 2018.

“Kroger’s heart may be in the right place but I’m not sure their heads are quite there yet with 2016 urban design ideas,” said Steve Byars, who attended the meeting.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 8, 2016.