Big stores leave big eyesores. That’s what has happened in Garland, Texas, where Wal-Mart and a private developer teamed up to build a prototype of the future Wal-Mart superstore. In 1987, Wal-Mart opened up its ‘hypermarket,’ a European term, and a European concept based on the French discount retailer Carrefour. Wanting to imitate what they had seen in Europe, Wal-Mart officials chose Garland, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, as the site for this experimental 220,000 s.f. hypermarket. This large store preceeded by ten years what later came to be called a ‘supercenter.’ The store began its life branded as “Hypermart USA,” but later became known as a Wal-Mart. The giant retailer shut the store down in May of 2008, so the project lasted 21 years. Now it’s just a colossal red, white and blue eyesore sitting on 40 acres of valuable land. At any point in time, Wal-Mart has at least 200 such dead stores on the market for sale or lease. “The fact that the land is now mostly vacant, that provides an opportunity that we haven’t had for at least 21 years,” City Councilor John Willis told the Dallas News. Willis wants the former Wal-Mart property rezoned. The city is proposing to add a “planned development district” as an overlay to the current shopping center designation. When the city’s Plan Commission held a hearing in November, Garland residents said they wanted to see the land used for something that benefits the community. “This is a very large site,” one resident told the Dallas News. “We want to see something go in up there that will enhance our neighborhood and not pull property values further down. We need something eye-appealing.” Hypermart USA was a joint venture between Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Dallas-based Cullum Companies. By 1990, Hypermart had become a Wal-Mart branded store. When Wal-Mart opened an Hispanic community store last spring, it closed down the former Hypermart. The head of the Garland Chamber of Commerce told the newspaper that the huge Wal-Mart site has become a huge concern for the city. “They are not producing revenues, and they tend to get run-down and blighted if they stay empty for any length of time, and that reflects on neighborhoods and depresses the value of that property. When you have a building that was built for a specific use, and you want to get it reused, it’s going to be a major remodeling project.” Garland has no requirement that a developer who abandons a property has to pay for its demolition. The new overlay district will only prevent certain uses now on the site from being prpoposed as new projects — such as an auto repair shop, or a bus terminal. Those current uses at the Wal-Mart site could stay — but if they stopped operating for six months or longer — — a new use of similar purpose would be prohibited. Garland is trying to more tightly control what goes onto that property. But the elephant in the room is the dead Wal-Mart. Rezoning the land will not change the fact that Wal-Mart has left Garland, Texas with a hyper-problem, because very few retailers would want to reuse a 21 year old building that is nearly 4 times the size of a football field.
No one in Garland has proposed a demolition fee that would force the owner/developer to restore this site to its pre-development state. The Wal-Mart itself sits on 24 acres. No doubt Garland officials had never imagined that the store would only last two decades. When the Hispanic store was being proposed, officials apparently did not make clearing out the ‘old’ hypermarket a quid pro quo in the deal. But city officials should be doing more now than just rezoning the land. In return for rezoning, Garland should be asking Wal-Mart and the Cullum Companies to raze the building and restore the site to its predevelopment condition. This would create a wider range of options for the city. Readers are urged to contact Garland Mayor Ron Jones at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Jones, You have emphasized workforce and economic development as a top priority for Garland. As the eighth largest manufacturing city in Texas, Garland should continue to build on that capacity, and go after decent paying jobs in companies that actually make something — not companies that only sell things. The Wal-Mart Hypermart has left your city with a hyper-problem. Instead of just creating a new overlay zone on that site, the city should be pressing Wal-Mart and its co-owner to tear down that building if no buyer can be found. At 220,000 s.f. there is not much to do with that structure other than create a wind tunnel. Wal-Mart used it for 21 years, and the city should not be forced to pay for its demolition. A good corporate citizen would pay to take it down. That will give you the most flexible options for reuse of the property. As long as the hulking Hypermart dominates the site, redevelopment of the land is going to be difficult. What Wal-Mart put up, Wal-Mart can take down. Don’t let Garland taxpayers get stuck with an empty Hypermart.”