On February 19, 2008, Sprawl- Busters reported that Wal-Mart had been hit with a double whammy in Corpus Christi, Texas. One planned supercenter was dead, and a second was mired in a landlord-tenant lawsuit. The dead project was on the southside of the city, in the Timbergate neighborhood. According to the Caller-Times newspaper, Wal-Mart got a waiver approved by the city’s Planning Commission in November 2007, after resubmitting their plans for a rezoning. In March, 2007, Wal-Mart squeaked by the Planning Commission on a 5-3 vote in favor of the project. But in June, Wal-Mart withdrew their rezoning application for South Staples Street just one day before it was scheduled to come before the City Council. Normally, if an application is pulled, the proponent has to wait a full year before resubmitting. But in this case, Wal-Mart asked that their cooling off period be cut in half. Wal-Mart wanted the city to change the land from its current designation of R-1B, or single family, to B-1, a neighborhood business district. To apply for the B-1 zone, Wal-Mart had to eliminate a tire and lube center from the mix. City staff admitted that granting a waiver was a “rare occurrence.” But when the Planning Commission met, they voted unanimously to approve a “rare” waiver for Wal-Mart, allowing the company to proceed with their rezoning application. Corpus Christi planning staff said at the time that the retailer had not given them enough information to make a decision. “We need time to review and recommend and we’re frankly not convinced (the latest information from Wal-Mart is) adequate, but it’s at least a step in the right direction,” the city’s planning director told the Caller Times. But by February, 2008, plans for the Southside Supercenter had fallen apart, because the landowners announced that they were selling the property to the H.E.B. grocery chain. In the meantime, the second Wal-Mart project at the Parkdale Plaza, a 203,000 s.f. supercenter, ran into a landlord-tenant dispute. Dueling lawsuits were filed by the Parkdale Plaza owners and their tenants, the Sutherlands, a home improvement chain store in 13 states in the south, Midwest and Gulf Coast. The Sutherlands were sued for allowing their parking lot to deteriorate and become pitted. The Parkdale Plaza owners were sued by Sutherlands for violating an agreement not to allow a direct competitor to the home improvement store into the Plaza. Sutherlands said their lease prevents the landlord from allowing another prospective tenant to be “permitted to sell building materials and/or home improvement supplies and services.” Sutherlands wanted Wal-Mart to show that its product mix would not affect Sutherlands’ business and current lease. The Parkdale Plaza owners said the Sutherlands lawsuit is freezing progress on the Wal-Mart Supercenter and that Sutherlands needs to maintain its parking lot, or the company could face a termination of their lease. Wal-Mart won’t sign a lease with Parkdale until the issue with Sutherlands is settled. The Wal-Mart Supercenter at Parkdale is a huge, 203,000 s.f. store, plus an additional 44,000 s.f. for other retailers. On May 2, 2008, The Caller newspaper said that Wal-Mart was going to make a third try to locate a new store in Corpus Christi. They were going back to the southside of the city near the same Timbergate neighborhood that rejected them. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman would not confirm that the retailer was focusing on a site at Airline Road and Saratoga Boulevard. “There are various sites under consideration on the Southside,” she said, “but we are not yet ready to confirm any specific plans at this time.” But a commercial real estate broker who represents the property owner at Airline and Saratoga, did not deny that a deal is in the works. “When the time is right, we will announce whatever it is that will be on that property, but right now it is too soon to tell.” The residents of Corpus Christi are gearing up for their third battle against Wal-Mart. Having lost their first two battles, it’s clear that Wal-Mart won’t take ‘No’ for an answer. This week, the Caller-Times reports that the lawsuit between Parkdale Plaza and the Sutherlands home improvement chain has been settled — just before it was due in court. The two sides would have met in court for a non-jury trial on July 31st, but the lawsuit is over — with one stipulation. Parkdale Plaza’s attorney told the paper, “Final resolution of this dispute will be deferred until, and if, Wal-Mart buys the property from my client.” In other words, if Wal-Mart backs out of the deal for any reason, the legal wrangle between landlord and tenant could continue. This lawsuit has delayed the Wal-Mart opening for almost a year.
Neither of the attorneys on either side would comment on the lawsuit, but Sutherlands had claimed that their lease with Parkdale specifically prevents the landlord from renting to another tenant selling building materials. Wal-Mart is familiar with such lease restrictions. It often insists on non-compete clauses when it leases a store, and has similar language when it goes to sell or lease its ‘dead stores.’ Parkdale Plaza, which first opened its door in 1957, once was considered a retail showcase for Corpus Christi, but over the years the plaza deteriorated — in part due to competition from big box chain stores. Officials in Corpus Christi seem to believe that Wal-Mart and Parkdale Plaza need welfare payments to survive. The Caller-Times reports that city officials are talking to the developers about giving them tax incentives for the plaza. Wal-Mart announced last year that if it opens a new supercenter on the southside of Corpus Christi, the “old” Wal-Mart store on South Padre Island Drive will be shut down. This flurry of big box activity is totally incompatible with the land use goals of Corpus Christi. The “official” vision statement for the city says their goal is, “To make Corpus Christi one of the most livable communities in America. To create a vibrant, progressive, clean city that rejoices in its diversity…and provide an abundance of economic development opportunities while paying special attention to our unique environment.” It’s hard to reconcile that vision with a Wal-Mart supercenter. One of the city’s “Focus Areas” is the downtown, and “vacant buildings.” The last thing Corpus Christi needs is a huge, vacant Wal-Mart. The city cannot invest in its downtown and keep permitting big box stores outside the central business district. Readers are urged to let Mayor Henry Garrett, and Planning Commission Chairman Bryan Stone, know that Corpus Christi should resist this Wal-Mart saturation. Go to the Mayor’s Comment Form, at http://www.cctexas.com/forms/Mayorsform/MayorsCommentForm.cfm, and tell the Mayor and Planning Commission: “Wal-Mart is incompatible with the vision statement for Corpus Christi, and the one Wal-Mart on South Padre Island Drive is one more than enough. Texas currently has 24 dead Wal-Marts. It doesn’t need one more in Corpus Christi. The city should take this opportunity to put a cap on the size of retail buildings and stop encouraging superstore sprawl outside of the downtown. If Sutherlands closes, you will have another dead store on your hands. Under any circumstance, don’t use any tax dollars to subsidize Parkland Plaza. Wal-Mart should be able to financially stand on its own — without corporate welfare. When you give Wal-Mart developers subsidies, you are paying them to put other Corpus Christi merchants out of business. The ‘free market’ does not mean free cash from city taxpayers. Make Wal-Mart pay its own way — always!”