Lake County, Florida, with its more than 1,000 lakes and rivers, describes itself as having “striking physical beauty” which has “captured the hearts and imagination of many.” It also captured the heart of Wal-Mart, which has built 4 supercenters within 22 miles of Lake County. But the Orlando Business Journal reports this week that Wal-Mart is withdrawing a superstore proposed for the Plaza Collina retail center. The Lake County collapse is part of the slew of recent withdrawals by Wal-Mart that tracks back to the company’s decision in June of 2007 to reassess all its supercenter sites, and to cut back new store growth. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Journal that Wal-Mart is abandoning several superstore projects in Central Florida. Wal-Mart’s withdrawal left the 950,000 s.f. shopping center without a major anchor. The Goodman Company, which is developing Plaza Collina, told residents the center would be “upscale,” but later announced that Wal-Mart was going to be the first tenant. The vice president for development at Goodman told the Business Journal, “We’re disappointed because it was a big tenant, a big piece of the project. But the beat goes on. Our company’s been through many of these economic cycles. We’re a low capitalized company and we can deal with things like this.” As for Wal-Mart, their only comment was, “We have been looking at and re-evaluating sites across the country, and this one we are not going forward with.” One of many projects that have hit the skids.
The beat may go on in Lake County, but Wal-Mart has missed the beat. The Wal-Mart supercenter proposal “ignited fiery opposition” from residents who complained it was not an upscale shopping mecca, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The moment the developer pulled a bait and switch with residents, the reception in this Florida community turned ice cold. This withdrawal is the third melt down for Wal-Mart in central Florida. The company also took the back door out in Neptune Beach and Spring Hill in Hernando County. The developers have vowed to go on, and are even asking the Lake County Commission to give them welfare money to build their retail center. They have applied for a “special tax district,” which is nothing more than a taxpayer’s bailout of the project, which allows some of the building costs and infrastructure to be paid for by the public. The Orlando Sentinel suggested that Wal-Mart’s withdrawl from the plan actually could help the developer, because residents “worried a 24-hour store would create round-the-clock traffic and crime.” One Lake County Commissioner, Elaine Renick, told the newspaper: “I am ecstatic — let’s hope now the future will bring something more closely resembling the original plan.” The only unhappy party seemed to be The Goodman Company, which traveled to Arkansas to try to save the project. “Every retailer out there is proceeding very cautiously during this time,” a Goodman’s spokesman said. “It’s more than 140 acres of entitled, commercially zoned land on State Road 50 in one of the most dynamically growing marketplaces in the state of Florida and probably the Southeastern United States.” Site plans for the Lake County store were withdrawn Tuesday from the planning offices. Readers are urged to email District 2 Commissioner Elaine Renick, by going to the Lake County website at: http://www.lakecountyfl.gov/departments/commissioners/district_2.aspx. Tell Commissoiner Renick: “Thank you for being ecstatic that the Wal-Mart supercenter proposal in Lake County is dead. You have a reputation for protecting the natural resources of Lake County. The Plaza Collina has been approved for up to 1.2 million s.f. of stores, restaurants and offices. Lake County should amend its zoning code to limit the size of any single retail building to no more than 75,000 s.f. If you want to protect the ‘striking physical beauty’ of Lake County, the Wal-Mart withdrawal is the time to put an end to these over-sized projects that raise nothing but the traffic count and the crime rate.”