Wal-Mart currently has 25 supercenters in Washington state, and 20 discount stores. They wanted to add another one in Fircrest, which has been described as a wealthy suburb of Tacoma. The city has only 5,868 residents, so any superstore would have to serve a much larger population base. But Wal-Mart opponents are resting easier this week, because the giant retailer announced that it is abandoning plans to build a superstore in Fircrest. This ends a two year battle in Fircrest. According to the Associated Press, the city was festooned with anti-Wal-Mart lawn signs, a petition drive, and a website. All that ended this week with a short statement from Wal-Mart. “The combination of traffic mitigation costs and the constraints of the site led to a financial picture that did not pencil out,” the company said. “We explored many designs, including multi-story buildings, to fit in the footprint but found that the costs outstripped the benefits of those plans.” According to Wal-Mart, their plans changed because of a neighboring city. The city of University Place owns the street access to the site, and wanted millions of dollars in improvements to the roads. Wal-Mart replied that such costs were “outside the scope of our project.” The project sits on only 9.5 acres, a small site for a Wal-Mart superstore. The company designed a three level store to accommodate the footprint limitations. But reaction to the project in University Place was that their city would get all the pain, and none of the gain. The city’s development services director told the News Tribune that the superstore would have caused traffic jams at the five-street intersection near the store during peak hour travel. “That intersection couldn’t handle a Wal-Mart up the street,” said University Place’s deputy city manager. The Mayor of University Place told the newspaper, “We couldn’t say, ‘Don’t build there,’ but that’s a lot to dump on that street.” UP officials also told Wal-Mart that the project would require new sidewalks, curbs and gutters. After lining out their needs, the city said they had not heard from Wal-Mart in six months. Wal-Mart claimed the UP demands would drive up the cost by $3.5 million to $6 million. Wal-Mart first submitted this application to Fircrest in July of 2005.
Fircrest officials repeated the Wal-Mart claim that the superstore would have generated $400,000 annually in tax revenue from the 127,647-square-foot store, and “created” up to 200 jobs. “I think revenue-wise, the city will take a big hit,” said one Fircrest Councilwoman. “We’ll miss it.” But city officials never released data showing the net fiscal impact on the city, once you factor in the costs for police and fire services to the site. The net job impact, after deducting lost jobs at other retailers, would have been negligible. Wal-Mart addicts won’t have to look far for a superstore. There is already a Wal-Mart supercenter in Lakewood, Washington, about three miles away. Wal-Mart said in its statement that it continues to look for sites in the Fircrest area but had none in mind. Wal-Mart opponents put up yard signs, circulated petitions and maintained a Web site (www.fircrestagainstwalmart.org). While Fircrest officials were wringing their hands over being abandoned by Wal-Mart, store opponents had quite a different reaction. “We’re pleased as punch,” said one University Place hoimeowner. After two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, Wal-Mart has nothing to show its stockholders for all its efforts in Fircrest. They tried to two years to “pencil in” the project on a very small piece of land — and in the end, the pencil broke.