Every so often, a developer leaves Wal-Mart in the lurch. Much in the same way that Wal-Mart is increasingly dumping its own locations. This week, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reports that a developer called The Bunch Company, has left a 39,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market all dressed up with nowhere to go. A planned 80,000 s.f. shopping center in the Ahwatukee neighborhood of Phoenix, near the Desert Foothills Parkway and Chandler Boulevard, was supposed to include a 24 hour Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market — which is the retailer’s “smallest” format store. But it was revealed that The Bunch Company has a bunch of financial problems, and owes its bank $7.2 million, and the city of Phoenix $72,000 in property taxes. That leaves Wal-Mart nowhere in the neighborhood. But the company insists that this is not one of those “pullout” stories Sprawl-Busters has been repeating frequently over the past 10 months. Wal-Mart is ready to roll out its store, as soon as another owner steps forward, or The Bunch Company cleans up its financial house. “Nothing has changed from our end, we’re ready to move forward on the project,” a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart told the Foothill News. “It is a good location and a good area to serve.” Wal-Mart can’t move forward now, because it wants the neighborhood market to be part of a mall, not a stand-alone store like its supercenters. The Bunch Company had planned to build another 40,000 s.f. or retailing around the Neighborhood Market. The city of Phoenix gave this project a green light in 2007, and Wal-Mart has invested several years into researching this site, according to the newspaper. “We spent extra time with city staff and the community to make sure they were comfortable with what we proposed,” Wal-Mart claimed. But with the legal status of the land in hold, it could be months, or even years, by the time Wal-Mart gets to Phoenix.
The residents of Phoenix have no problem getting cheap Chinese underwear. There are currently seven Wal-Mart supercenters in Phoenix, so no one has to travel more than a few minutes to fill up on low-value imports. As of last June, when Wal-Mart started to cut back on its superstore development, the retailer had 13 discount stores left in Arizona, 49 supercenters, 13 Sams Clubs, and 11 Neighborhood Markets. This Ahwatukee store would have been the first Neighborhood Market in Phoenix. The Ahwatukee Foothills Village is composed of master-planned communities with desert landscaping, golf courses and lakes. The presence of South Mountain provides numerous washes and trails for hiking, biking, walking and jogging. These amenities attract residents who value nature’s beauty and enjoy an active family life. The village has a planning committee that serves the community by providing review and recommendations on proposals for new zoning districts and changes to the General Plan. In addition, the committee works to identify and resolve local planning problems. There are 21 members of this planning group, including the Mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon. Readers are urged to email Mayor Gordon at [email protected] with this message: “Mr. Mayor, the residents of Ahwatukee are fortunate to have the chance to rethink the idea of a Wal-Mart Neighorhood Market. You have been a champion of preserving neighborhoods, and you have also been a local business owner. Phoenix to date has been flooded with Wal-Mart supercenters — 7 of them. Don’t make the same mistake with the “Neighborhood” Markets. If you want to preserve the feeling of small scale neighborhoods, then preserve the scale of its retail services. A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is almost the size of an acre — just for the building. Slightly smaller than a football field of building space. This is not a neighborhood facility. I would urge you to look to your zoning code, bring the issue to the Ahwatukee Planning Committee, and pass an ordinance that limits the size of retail buildings and creates “neighborhood retail districts” like Ahwatukee that keep the size of shopping malls and stand alone stores to no more than 25,000 s.f. each. If you want to protect the “nature’s beauty” that Ahwatukee Village boasts of, then Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets are not what you want in the neighborhood.”