On April 12, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Frenchtown, Michigan was the 49th community to see its proposed Wal-Mart supercenter either cancelled or delayed since June of 2007. But for residents who celebrated the delay, the party was short-lived. Two months later, Wal-Mart is back. Wal-Mart has four stores for sale or lease in Michigan, not counting the one in Frenchtown township. The existing discount store in Frenchtown will only be open until the Wal-Mart supercenter gets built there — if that ever happens. Frenchtown has a population of around 22,000, and is a largely agricultural community in eastern Monroe County on the shores of Lake Erie. According to the Monroe News, Wal-Mart delayed this superstore project — but did not killing it outright. Instead of starting construction on the store in 2008, the company in April pushed the timeline back until 2009, which meant it would not open until 2010. In June, 2007, Wal-Mart announced that it was delaying 80 stores for at least one year, due to a change in its growth strategy. In Frenchtown, city officials blamed the delay on site-specific issues — but ultimately noted that “general economic conditions” were to blame. Frenchtown Township Supervisor James McDevitt said the construction timetable was delayed due to the need to remove a rail spur on the site, and relocation of a water main. “They had some mitigation of the same property they had to do for wetlands and they also had a railroad spur coming in that has to be removed. They’re still working it out with the railroad company when that work can be done.” But then he added: “Also, with the way the economy is, they just felt it was a good time to hold off and wait till next year,” he added. But during this delay, a vacant lumber retailer was torn down on the supercenter site, as well as a trucking business. “We are making sure the buildings they purchased on the property will be removed,” McDevitt told the newspaper. “They’re getting to be an eyesore and people have been stealing windows, siding, and everything else off of them.” This week, the Monroe News pronounced that the delayed supserstore was ‘back on track.’ Supervisor McDevitt said Wal-Mart has gone out for bids on construction of the store and work could begin in July or August. “We are scheduled to go out for bid next week. The bid process takes about six to eight weeks, so we should start construction yet this year,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told The News. “It should be open for business in late summer of 2009.” The site is 35-acres and includes not only the former site of Wickes Lumber, but a trucking company and several homes. Wal-Mart now owns the property. It appears that negotiations over the railroad spur, wetland issues, and road improvements have all been resolved. The only change is the elimination of the tire and auto repair shop in the original supercenter layout. The retailer was rumored to be coming back in with a gasoline station proposal at a later date. Wal-Mart told the newspaper that their supercenter “will probably employ anywhere from 325 to 400, so it will probably double the workforce size.” This, of course, does not subtract jobs lost at existing stores, and over half of that job count (175 jobs) will be transferred from the existing Wal-Mart in Frenchtown that will close.
Frenchtown Supervisor McDevitt told The News the downturn in the economy did not seem to be a factor in the progress of this supercenter. “I guess Wal-Mart is the biggest retail store,” McDevitt said, “and they’ve probably got money no matter what, and this is the cheapest time to get stuff done because a lot of contractors are underbidding what the engineers’ cost estimates are on projects.” McDevitt said he believes Wal-Mart has someone lined up to lease or buy the current Wal-Mart store once it’s empty. The existing Wal-Mart store is 16 years old, and is 125,000 s.f. The Frenchtown supercenter is being built across the street from the discount store at 2155 North Telegraph Road. Wal-Mart says it will put its existing store up for lease. The store is not listed by Wal-Mart Realty. The company often tells local residents that it will convert the “old” store into a Sam’s Club — but that rarely happens. There are 26 Sams Clubs today in Michigan, but city officials in Frenchtown township said that Wal-Mart would have had to tear down the existing Wal-Mart, and then build a new Sam’s Club. “Some people didn’t see the rationale for that,” the Monroe News admitted. But the Township’s Supervisor explained that Wal-Mart would tear down the building, write it off as a loss, and then build the kind of store dimensions that better suited a Sam’s Club. All through this recent period, Wal-Mart has said nothing publicly, leaving the explanations to city officials. Readers are urged to call Frenchdtown Supervisor James McDevitt at 734-242-5800 with the following message: “Supervisor McDevitt, It is absurd to have Wal-Mart abandon its discount store on North Telegraph, only to build a superstore across the street. When the superstore opens, the discount store becomes one more “dark store” to Wal-Mart. There will be no Sam’s Club, there will be no new retailer. Now is the time for Frenchtown to negotiate a developer’s agreement with Wal-Mart which stipulates that they deposit a demolition bond with the city, and if their existing store on Telegraph remains empty for 24 months, the city will be authorized to tear down the building at Wal-Mart’s expense. This new superstore will bring no added value economically to Frenchtown. It will not create 325 new jobs. Half the jobs will transfer from across the street, and most of the rest will come from other merchants in Frenchtown. This kind of leap-frog develop is known as sprawl — and it wastes another 35 acres with very little economically to show for it. It will only steal sales from existing grocers in the Frenchtown/Monroe trade area. Now that Wal-Mart is back, it’s time for the Supervisors to negotiate a better deal for the taxpayers of Frenchtown.”