This is a frontier story from a state where land is apparently so plentiful that the taxpayers have to sell it at auction. Arizona has sold state land to the retailer known for its everyday low prices. According to the Sierra Vista Herald, Wal-Mart has bought 54 acres of land in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The corporation paid the state $8.44 million, or roughly $156,260 per acre. This city had a population in 2007 of just over 43,000 people. Sierra Vista already has Wal-Mart discount store #1240 located at 657 State Highway 90. The new Wal-Mart supercenter is likely to lead to the closure of the Highway 90 Wal-Mart. In 1998, Arizona had 34 discount stores, and no supercenters. Ten years later, there were only 10 of the smaller discount stores left, and 57 supercenters. The number of Wal-Mart stores in Arizona basically doubled over the past decade, as the company either shut down or expanded the discount stores into larger, more profitable supercenters. Today Wal-Mart Realty is trying to sell or lease 3 empty Wal-Mart discount stores — all of them larger than 100,000 s.f. Wal-Mart has a total of 348,071 s.f. sitting dark by the roadside, or roughly 6 empty football fields worth of buildings. Officials in Sierra Vista should travel to Lake Havasu City, Mesa, or Peoria, Arizona to see what will happen to their discount store on Highway 90. Wal-Mart says it will start building their new supercenter — plus a Sam’s Club — in 2010. To do that, they have to truck in 140,000 cubic yards of dirt to the site.”We will be doing a fair amount of grading to the site in the next few days,” a government relations spokesman for Wal-Mart said. The Sierra Vista project has been on hold for at least a year, according to the Herald, but now construction is slated to begin this coming January. The combined square footage of the superstore and the Sam’s Club were slashed by 17% from the size originally proposed. “We are looking at our store sizes and making sure they are the appropriate size to serve the community,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said. The Sam’s Club will be roughly 100,000 s.f. and the superstore will measure 176,000 s.f. A revised site plan will be returning to the city for review at the end of June. The city also needs to approve new building plans for the stores. If the plans are approved, construction of a superstore usually takes 10 to 12 months. The Arizona Land Departmente has other commercial lots on the property which they are selling to other companies.
The city of Sierra Vista should consider changing its name to Wal-Mart Vista, as big boxes begin to dominate the landscape. For a community of this size, one Wal-Mart store would have been sufficient. Most of the sales at this new superstore will come from the Safeway, the Target, the Food City, and other smaller retailers in the city. The population of Sierra Vista, like most Arizona communities, continues to grow, so the trade area can absorb some new capacity without losing merchants, but the addition of another major gorcery store is certain to lead to lost jobs elsewhere in Sierra Vista. The Wal-Mart corporation could have taken its existing big box store in Sierra Vista and performed an ‘in-box conversion’ to change its format from a discount store to a superstore. This would have saved the company $8.44 million in acquisition costs, plus the millions it will take to build a larger store. Wal-Mart says it is now trying to make its stores be the “appropriate size” for the community, yet its history in Arizona and elsewhere shows that it has closed down large buildings that were still useful, to sprawl out in other locations sometimes just a stone’s throw away from their dead store. This is environmentally unsustainable, and inherently wasteful. Local officials apparently did not consider telling the retailer to consider reusing their large existing store, so another 54 acres will be paved over to increase Wal-Mart’s market share. Readers are urged to contact Sierra Vista Mayor Bob Strain at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Strain, You have a background in economics, and for many years have been involved in economic development projects. Surely the idea of shutting down the existing Wal-Mart discount store on Highway 90 to replace it with a larger store adds little value to your trade area economy. Selling land to Wal-Mart so they can accumulate more market share will yield little or nothing by way of new employment or revenues. If they close down their existing store, and the Safeway closes, what real net gain is there to the city? There are already 3 ‘dark stores’ in Arizona vacated by Wal-Mart. Sierra Vista will be added to that list. In your economic development blueprint, ‘Our Future Vistas,’ the city talks about its ‘unique environment and climate’ being ‘protected, and enhanced by open space, parks, walking paths, and other amenities.’ The city talks about ‘well-planned smart growth,’ but then turns around and encourages leap frog sprawl by national chain stores. If Sierra Vista is going to attract quality growth through good land use planning, this Wal-Mart superstore is heading you in the wrong direction. As the Mayor of another small city once said, ‘It’s not how big you grow that matters — but how you grow big.’ Sierra Vista should reject the latest Wal-Mart plans, and ask the retailer to do an in-box conversion of its existing store. The proposal will change your Vistas, but not in a way you will like.”