On June 16, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Environmental Development Commission in St. Petersburg, Florida had voted 5-2 to reject Wal-Mart’s application for a special exception and site plan approval for a 163,250 s.f. supercenter on 27 acres off Gandy Boulevard. Wal-Mart had the right to appeal the EDC ruling to the City Council. This week, things are looking just dandy on Gandy, as word spread that Wal-Mart had withdrawn its appeal, just two weeks before its case would have come before the City Council. Most likely, Wal-Mart did the math, and saw the handwriting on the wall. The corporation needed 6 out of 8 votes on the Council to overturn the EDC vote. Rather than wait until August 23rd to lose that vote, Wal-Mart dropped out and avoided the public embarrassment. The company said traffic access concerns led to the withdrawal, but the EDC rejection really sent the project into a tailspin. This is the fourth defeat of a Wal-Mart supercenter in the past week, the others being Central Point, Oregon, Ellenwood, Georgia, and Newport News, Virginia. It’s also another loss for Wal-Mart in Florida. Four months ago, citizens in west St. Petersburg stopped expansion of a Wal-Mart discount store, and residents in Crystal River, Florida have delayed Wal-Mart plans there over an annexation issue. “It shows that you shouldn’t assume you don’t have a chance because they’re the biggest corporation in the world,” one resident told the St. Petersburg Times. Wal-Mart told the newspaper it would not come back to Gandy Boulevard at this point. “I think we need to step back and look at our overall strategy in the Tampa Bay area,” a spokesman said. The Times described residents as being “overjoyed” by the retailer’s defeat. “We were prepared to go 10 more rounds if we had to, because we had it in black and white that the project just wasn’t right for that site,” said one opponent.
Four losses in one week: It’s been a miserable week for Wal-Mart nationally. But as more and more communities take up battle positions, the road ahead for Wal-Mart, and its stockholders, is likely to look a lot like Gandy Boulevard. This proposal did not fit, the traffic problems were insurmountable, and the neighbors determined. Look for more such losses from Wal-Mart in the months ahead.