Wal-Mart already has three stores in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. If you are addicted to Chinese take out, you can stop by the Wal-Mart supercenter on College Drive, or the Wal-Mart supercenter on Cortana Place. There’s also a Neighborhood Market on Highland Road. But according to the Advocate newspaper, Baton Rouge’s fourth Wal-Mart store is not to be. A proposed Neighborhood Market on Government Street has vanished in the Louisiana night. The company’s plans to build a store on the site of a closed Winn-Dixie store — which was improverished by Wal-Mart — are now history. “That project has been dropped,” Wal-Mart’s public affairs manager for Louisiana told The Advocate. The retailer admitted that plans for the smaller store were pulled several months ago — but no one in Baton Rouge seemed to know it. A broker with the Beau Box Commercial Real Estate company said that his firm was now marketing the property on behalf of an Atlanta, Georgia company, the Infinity Property Group, which owns the Winn-Dixie site. Infinity bought the land from Winn-Dixie when the grocery chain went into bankruptcy. Infinity is now trying to sell the 5.5 acre site for $3 million, according to The Advocate. The old Winn-Dixie was approximately 44,000 square feet. The irony is that Wal-Mart currently has space to lease or buy at two former discount stores in Baton Rouge that it left for larger superstores. Wal-Mart has 33,360 s.f. left to lease in a discount store it built in 1988 at 102,450 s.f., that has a Hobby Lobby in it now, and an empty Office Depot. It was shut down when a Wal-Mart supercenter was built about half a mile from the ‘old’ Wal-Mart discount store. During Hurricane Gustav, this partially empty Wal-Mart building in Baton Rouge was used as the headquarters for the local Red Cross. Wal-Mart also owns a second empty store in Baton Rouge, a 124,574 s.f. building in the same mall as the Wal-Mart supercenter that replaced it. The “old” store located off Highway 61 was built in 1986, and is for sale by Wal-Mart for $3.75 million. So Wal-Mart has opened them, and closed them in Baton Rouge, and instead of recycling some of their properties for the proposed Neighborhood Market, they kept the community wondering what was going on — until word spread this week that the 4th Wal-Mart store was no more.
Baton Rouge is a great example of how Wal-Mart has played hop-scotch with its properties, shutting down stores to open bigger stores, and not being completely successful in filling up the old ones. At the same time, the company was still proposing to build new stores, while its “old” ones sat unused or partially empty. Louisiana currently has 8 dead Wal-Mart stores, which the media sometimes refers to as “ghost boxes.” Cities like Baton Rouge would do better to require developers to pay for the razing of any store they abandon, rather than see them turned into makeshift hurricane headquartes — the fate of several old Wal-Marts along the southern coast of Texas and Louisiana. Readers are urged to contact Baton Rouge Mayor-President Melvin Holden at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Holden, I was pleased to hear that Wal-Mart has backed out of plans to build another Neighborhood Market on Government Street. It seems to me that Wal-Mart has a poor track record of taking care of the properties it has opened and closed in Baton Rouge. The city has allowed them to leave their smaller stores, for the sole purpose of opening up a larger supercenter sometimes in the same mall! This makes little sense, and leaves under utilized properties that end up being used as headquarters by the Red Cross during hurricanes. This was not why these stores were built, and such properties can easily become blighted if they are not fully used for their original purpose. Now that Wal-Mart has dropped plans for its fourth store in your city, this is a good time to pass a requirement that retail stores put into escrow a fund to pay for the razing of any retail building that remains vacant for 12 consecutive months or more. Wal-Mart has wasted land by opening and closing stores, and underutilized the potential of the land they abandoned. It’s time for Baton Rouge to make developers pay for their whimsical moves around town that run the risk of leaving the city with more blighted property. Mr. Mayor, you say your downtown is coming alive. But if you keep allowing Wal-Mart to sprawl all over the edge of your city, your downtown will languish and struggle to survive. Tighten up your zoning laws to prevent suburban sprawl in a city environment.”