What a difference a day makes. On the evening of February 2, 2009, KETV NewsWatch 7 in Omaha, Nebraska reported that a new Wal-Mart supercenter in Sarpy County, Nebraska, located near the city of Gretna, would begin construction this summer. “More and more businesses are signing up to get a space at the Wick’s South Pointe development,” the station reported. But by the following evening, the story had taken a significant turn. “A major development planned for Sarpy County will not happen as quickly as originally thought,” Channel 7 said. It appears tenants at the 160 property near Route 80 was not as stable at the media thought. The Omaha World Herald newspaper published a story on February 3rd emphasizing new delays in the landowner’s plans. Not only had the Wicks Southpoine project been delayed “about a year,” the World Herald said, but a major big box store, Menard’s, had dropped out of the plan. A spokesman for Wal-Mart said that the retailer had been “concentrating” on opening another store in the Omaha area, and that no construction on the Wicks Southpointe land would happen in 2010, which means the superstore would not open until 2011. “It’s not that much of a delay,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said, but admitted, “We’re not going at the speed that we used to.” The retailer said it was following “a moderate growth rate.” The company’s stock hit a one year low this week, and same store sales have been very weak the past two months. But the company spokesman insisted that the slow down had nothing to do with the recession. Menard’s told the World Herald that it pulled out of the project because the required zoning approvals were not there. “We expect they’ll approach us again when they get it finally put together,” a Menard’s spokesman told the newspaper.
Wal-Mart is the only retailer that has actually bought land from the owner, who has no other signed agreements at this point. “We can have up to 25-30 good size businesses here,” the property owner told KETV. “We’ve got a tremendous amount of interest here.” He promised shoppers that Wicks Southpointe would be “bigger and better” than the nearby Nebraska Crossing mall. “We’re going to try to get the right chemistry for that. We’re going to try to put the right businesses in the right spots here hopefully we can get that done,” the owner said. The owner originally planned to use his acreage to expand his truck trailer business. But four years ago Wal-Mart stopped by with an offer to buy up 25 of his acres, and the Wicks Southpointe dream began. The plans include a lake and a walkway around the water. At this point, the landowner say the Wicks project depends upon Wal-Mart. “Naturally, the economy has hurt it too,” he told KETV. “I think once Wal-Mart breaks ground things will eventually start.” When this project was being reviewed by the Sarpy County Planning Commission last fall, it was not without controversy. This land is surrounded on the North, West and South by agriculturally zoned land. There are four supercenters within 12 miles of this location, including three in Omaha. The fourth Wal-Mart supercenter is located in Papillion, Nebraska. The Planning Director from the city of Papillion submitted comments to Sarpy County against the Wicks Southpointe project. “In my opinion, it is a poor location for retail services at this point in time,” wrote Mark Stursma, Planning Director in Papillion. “It is a classic case of sprawl, the result of which is an inefficient use of resources. Because the site is not adjacent to a city, the developer and subsequently the public, end up paying extra for the extension of utilities and roads over greater than necessary distances. The customers of the services also pay extra, due to the increased travel distances. Big box retail uses are also tremendous generators of sales tax. Sarpy County should be prepared for the likely attempt of a city or cities to annex this site for that reason.” Readers are urged to send an email comment to Joni Jones, the Chairwoman of the Sarpy County Board at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairwoman Jones, As a resident of Papillion, you know how foolish it is to saturate Sarpy County with big box sprawl. The proposed Wicks Southpointe project has no less than 4 Wal-Mart supercenters located within 12 miles of this site. Your planning director is right: ‘It is a classic case of sprawl.’ All around this project is agricultural land, and a bridge leading to the site will not be able to accommodate the added burden of traffic. The simple fact is: another Wal-Mart supercenter adds no value economically to your trade area, and will only cannibalize sales at its other supercenters, such as in your city of Papillion. This project will lower your sales taxes in Papillion, and stands as an example of what happens in the absence of regional land use planning. This is the role of the county, and the proliferation of these big box projects is making it appear that the county is asleep at the switch. I urge you to pass a county-wide cap on the size of big box stores, or very strict limits on where such projects can go. One way to limit the spread of these stores is to designate only one area where zoning will allow stores over 60,000 s.f. You have the choice: lead growth, or follow it. Right now, the developers are leading you deeper and deeper into sprawl. The announced delay in the Wal-Mart sitework is a good thing. I urge you not to approve the zoning for this development.”