Future supercenter concerns, not unique

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2003

With Wal-Mart’s impending placement of a supercenter in Greenville, controversy continues over choices made by the city’s leaders.

The biggest contention is the agreement by the city to create an authority to sublease the old Wal-Mart building on Interstate Drive for just over $16,000 a month until the year 2017.

That equals over $2.5 million in that time period.

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One group has formed in opposition of this decision and anyone who studies Wal-Mart knows this group is not alone.

In Denver, Colo., a group formed when Wal-Mart asked that the city create an Urban Renewal Authority to replace 20 small stores at a cost of $12 million according to the Denver Post article.

In that situation, the Authority approved the measure and met Wal-Mart’s demand for aid.

It should be noted that the area Wal-Mart wanted for its new supercenter was full of urban blight and so to rescue itself, the city went along, the Post wrote.

Now back to present day Greenville, Ala., where Wal-Mart has operated a store since April 1990.

Anyone who has shopped the store knows a larger one is needed.

In the last seven years, new supercenters have been built in Troy, Andalusia, two in Montgomery, Monroeville, Prattville, so it stands to reason, Greenville wasn’t far behind.

The burning question remains what will happen to the old store?

Initially, plans called for the installation of a movie theater and other mini-mall type businesses.

According to Mayor Dexter McLendon, that isn’t finalized and therefore, isn’t a sure thing.

If that doesn’t happen, Greenville has the same problem many other cities have across the country, an empty Wal-Mart building.

There are other alternative uses for the building, according to a Wal-Mart community affairs representative.

&uot;We do sell or lease a lot of property both to retailers and alternative users (i.e.: municipalities)&uot; Wal-Mart Spokeswoman Daphne Moore. &uot;Schools have leased or purchased our buildings.

Hospitals have leased or purchased our buildings.

It is not unheard of.&uot;

When Moore was questioned about other cities in areas around Butler County dealing with a closed Wal-Mart store, and what Wal-Mart plans has to ensure that doesn’t happen here, she said it would be a concerted effort by all.

&uot;We do more than help in marketing in the building,&uot; she said.

&uot;We do quite a bit in marketing our available properties.

Every year we sell or lease about 16 million square feet of retail space.&uot;

She said Wal-Mart operates a real estate department that works on marketing properties when one comes on the market.

&uot;It is not something that we take lightly,&uot; she said.

Well what will it mean now that a supercenter is coming to the Camellia City?

How many jobs will be lost?

According to a University of California at Irvine economical study, Wal-Mart does cost local jobs.

&uot;For every 100 jobs a Wal-Mart creates, 150 existing jobs in the community are destroyed,&uot; found Marlon Boamet, economist.

In another study performed by Iowa State University Professor Ken Stone, he detected a major shift in consumer habits from 1983 to 1993.

Stone estimates the total number of businesses lost in small towns and rural areas was 7,326 in the decade studied.

Stone wrote: &uot;When Wal-Mart arrives, they hit the town with the force of 100 new businesses opening at once.&uot; The demise of smaller, independent businesses in Iowa suggests that the &uot;retail hurricane&uot; theory is true.

Moore disagrees.

&uot;There was a number of factors that played in the state of Iowa when that study was completed,&uot; she said.

&uot;To point to one particular business (Wal-Mart) for economic troubles or economic success is short-sighted.

There are so many other factors that affect an economy.

When we do open a store we have to hire several hundred people from the community and what’s important is that consumer has a choice of where they want to shop.&uot;

In addition to losing possible jobs at other businesses, Wal-Mart has guaranteed the city of Greenville an annual increase of $300,000 in sales tax revenue.

In other cities, Wal-Mart has made similar claims, but they learned that an increase in sales tax revenues often comes from taking business from existing businesses.

Moore disagrees with this.

&uot;I don’t think this is correct,&uot; she said.

&uot;We have many examples where Wal-Mart has opened a new unit in a community or expanded as is the case here to a supercenter and the overall tax revenue increases,&uot; she said.

&uot;The city coffers grow.&uot;

The new supercenter will reportedly have several specialty shops including a florist, optical lab, photography studio and a fast food restaurant.

Some local business owners who will compete directly with the new supercenter chose not to comment for this story.