In September of 2007, Wal-Mart received approval from the city of Redmond, Oregon to build a Wal-Mart supercenter on Oak Tree Lane. At the same time, the company shut down its discount store on the southside of Redmond. The “old” store was 104,000 s.f., but Wal-Mart convinced city officials to let them abandon that store, and build a new store a few miles away. The larger supercenter store is 217,000 s.f. The retailer shut down their discount store, and it has sat empty now for a year and a half. Plans were submitted to convert the discount store into a new mall, with two or three smaller stores and new buildings in the parking lot. But the recession put a crimp in plans for the mall, and the Bend Bulletin newpaper now reports that the property’s owner, a businessman from Wyoming, hopes to sell the 104,000 s.f. building on 15 acres to a developer who will open a ‘family-fun center.’ Local officials across the nation are having to become more creative with these “ghost boxes” that sit empty after Wal-Mart empties them out. Sprawl-Busters recently reported that city officials in Hemet, California hope to see a medical facility replace their dead Wal-Mart discount store, and the Mayor of Saint Martinville, Louisiana is wagering on an offtrack gambling business to replace his town’s dead Wal-Mart. In addition to the Wal-Mart supercenter in Redmond, there is also a Wal-Mart discount store in Bend, Oregon about 18 miles away. On March 29, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Bend were spared the ‘ghost box’ experience when they stopped a supercenter from being built. A group called Our Community Fist was formed, and the group then retained a land use attorney and a traffic specialist. Coalition members wrote letters to the editor and op-ed articles, appeared on TV and radio, put bumper stickers on their cars and yard signs on their lawns, held rallies, picketed in front of Wal-Mart, and held a petition drive which collected more than 6,000 signatures from community residents against Wal-Mart — more than 10% of Bend’s population! Members of the coalition testified before the Oregon Transportation Commission, who, partially based on the testimony, decided to withhold funds for a highway interchange construction that Wal-Mart was counting on to help with the increased traffic generated by their store. Finally, after months of organizing, the land use hearing officer denied Wal-Mart’s application to build a Supercenter. The impact on traffic and the surrounding neighborhoods was the basis for denying the application. The community said — loud and clear — that a Wal-Mart supercenter was not welcome. Wal-Mart appealed the ruling, but there is no superstore in Bend today. Bend was spared the closing of their discount store, and Redmond got the superstore instead — leaving Redmond with a dead store.
According to the Bend Bulletin, ‘dark stores’ are cropping up everywhere in Central Oregon, a product of over-building. Last week Joe’s Sports, Outdoors & More announced that it was closing 31 of its stores, including one in Bend. Retailers like Gottschalks, Linens ‘n Things and McMahan’s Furniture also are shutting down stores in Bend. The community is also saying farewell to local retailers like Aasland’s Fine Furniture and Rising Star Stellar Home Furnishings. The newspaper says that smaller stores in downtown Bend have been replaced with new tenants, but the larger spaces left by big box stores are much harder to fill. The Bulletin writes that the closing of major anchor stores at the malls weakens all the smaller stores in the malls. The owners of the dead Wal-Mart in south Redmond must be getting desperate if they have given up on finding a retailer to take Wal-Mart’s space. The new superstore in Redmond is probably looking like a bad decision about now, as officials in the city realize they are not going to get a replacement anchor for the dead Wal-Mart. Filling vacant retail space anywhere in Bend or Redmond is not easy. “It is survival of the fittest right now,” said a real estate professional in Bend. “You would have to think that Bend is overretailed, but how much I don’t know. The market will tell.” Another retail property manager in Bend said that finding national chains stores is not easy these days. He points out that there are more retail stores per capita in America than any other time in history. “A lot of it was fueled by available cash for developments and a lot of willing consumers,” he noted. The real estate analyst explained that big spaces may have to be subdivided in order to sell. “The nationals just are not beating down anyone’s door to get in,” he said. “You just have to try to find the retail uses that are prospering.” In downtown Redmond, there is now an empty store where a 60,000 s.f. Erickson’s Thriftway once did business, and Parr Lumber and Tum-A-Lum Lumber also are both closed. There is other commercial property around the Wal-Mart Supercenter in north Redmond, and near the Lowe’s Home Improvement store south of Redmond’s downtown. For now, the empty Wal-Mart space in Redmond, which is nearly the size of two football fields, remains empty. If there is going to be a “family-fun center,” someone has to become the operator, and financing has to be raised — neither of which has happened. The broker trying to finish the fun center deal said his company looked at what Redmond need more — another mall, or an entertainment center. “Does the community really need a new mall or would recreation work better?” he explained to the Bulletin. “We believe that the higher and better use weighs it towards the recreation side more than the mall side.” Readers are urged to call Redmond Mayor George Endicott at (541) 948-3219 with this message: “Dear Mayor Endicott, You have an undergrad degree in economics, and a long-standing interest in land use planning. You served as the Chairman of a Planning Commission in Virginia. You may have seen the economic devastation Wal-Mart has caused in small town after small town. You may have realized that Wal-Mart’s proposal to replace its discount store in Redmond with a supercenter added no economic value to your city. But now that this mistake was made, you have seen Wal-Mart’s ‘old’ discount store sit on the market for more than a year and a half now. To prevent his from ever happening to Redmond again, you should propose to the city council that any retailer with a building in excess of 50,000 s.f. which allows its property to sit empty, unused as an active retail store, for 12 months or longer, will have to pay to have the store demolished, and the site returned to its predevelopment state. Right now you are in the embarassing position of waiting to see if any developer can be found for a ‘family-fun center.’ The city should never have allowed this wasteful leapfrog development that leaves ‘ghost boxes’ behind. These stores can take 3 years or longer to fill. Don’t let Redmond make the Wal-Mart mistake again. Pass a demolition bond, and make big anchor stores pay for their own valueless land use decisions.”