One Wal-Mart is one more than enough for the residents of Tempe, Arizona. The announcement that Wal-Mart wants to build a second superstore in this community of roughly 165,000 people “has unleashed an outpouring of public dissent,” according to the Arizona Republic newspaper. In late April, the retailer proposed moving into an existing shopping center, including a Mervyn’s department store, along Rural Road and Southern Avenue. Many residents in the area don’t care for the plan at all. “We are just against Wal-Mart moving into our area because it’s such a high-impact business,” said one member of the group Save Tempe. “We’re going to be looking for support from our representatives because they’ve got to help us on this matter if they want to stay in office.” City officials claim there is little they can do because the parcel is already zoned commercial. Tempe’s community development director told the newspaper, “We have to treat it the same as if it were a JCPenney or a Kohl’s that wanted to come in.” The city says Wal-Mart will not be significantly changing the size of the building, and so does not even need a special permit. They claim Wal-Mart only plans to make interior changes to the Mervyn’s building — like a new layout and floor, etc. Wal-Mart will take over Mervyn’s lease, which runs out in May of 2008. But neighbors know a Wal-Mart supercenter will bring significant changes to the surrounding community, with a much higher volume of daily traffic. This project goes against the city’s land use goals of revitalizing neighborhoods, residents charge. “Wal-Mart doesn’t really reflect the type of development we’ve been seeing,” explained Chris Rogers, a member of Save Tempe. “If downtown is the mind of Tempe, central Tempe is the heart and soul, so we need more development that reflects the upward trend that brings the neighborhoods up, rather than down.” The group Save Tempe was formed to oppose the Wal-Mart project, and “create development that supports our neighborhoods.” The group explained its position in the following memo to Sprawl-Busters: “Wal-Mart purchased, the Mervyn??s property, the 99 Cents Only property and the adjacent parking lot at Rural Road and Southern Avenue from Scottsdale-based Diversified Partners in April 2007. Mervyn’s was in the process of negotiating renewal of their lease when the sale occurred; their lease will expire in May 2008. Mervyn’s is searching for a new Central Tempe location. Wal-Mart plans on opening a supercenter by fall 2008. Because Wal-Mart is planning to move into an existing building, they will not have to go through an entitlement process with the City of Tempe (no traffic analysis, no development review, no public hearing, etc.). The standard size of the Mervyn’s store is 86,000 sf. The standard size of a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter is 100,000-200,000 sf. Wal-Mart will likely only have to apply for sign-package and liquor license approval. A growing opposition movement is underway as neighborhood association leaders and area residents have organized to help Save Tempe neighborhoods. Councilmembers have been flooded with email messages and phone calls expressing opposition to Wal-Mart at Rural and Southern, which is one of the busiest in the city. In 2006 there were ninety accidents reported at this intersection; this represents an 11% increase over the prior year. Additionally, Rural and Southern accounts for 1.3% of all traffic accidents in the City of Tempe. The average Wal-Mart Supercenter gets 18 commercial deliveries — in large semi-trailer trucks — per day, in stark comparison to the current Mervyn’s that receives just about three commercial deliveries per week. The addition of a 24-7 Wal-Mart will overload our neighborhoods with cut-through traffic requiring additional traffic calming measures that Tempe taxpayers will have to foot the bill for. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter will abut some of the City of Tempe’s oldest neighborhoods. After several years of transition and fighting negligent rental property owners and their tenants, many residents have made significant upgrades to these older homes — increasing their property values in sync with the Valley’s housing boom. The evidence can be seen first-hand as you drive through Tempe Gardens, Palmcroft, Brentwood-Cavalier, and Superstition Neighborhood Association streets. These changes are notable, very welcome, and in many cases most remarkable. There is a place for Wal-Mart: in predominantly commercial-zoned areas much like the Tempe Marketplace currently under construction. Not in small, aging communities in close proximity to dense residential neighborhoods. No fewer than six supermarkets are currently within one mile of Southern and Rural. Wal-Mart will duplicate existing retail offerings and threaten merchants that have a standing commitment to Tempe residents.”
Tempe residents are correct that this is not an even trade — an older Mervyn’s for a new Wal-Mart supercenter. The city needs to look closely at the added traffic burden this store will place on roads leading to the facility. A department store and a free-standing discount supercenter are not considered the same land use by the Institute for Traffic Engineers. Wal-Mart will also want to expand the store into a larger format — or leave it entirely within a few year’s time. In one Massachusetts case currently under review, Wal-Mart moved into an existing mall with a 100,000 s.f. store in 1999, and now wants to abandon that site and build a 200,000 s.f. superstore. This move in Tempe forces Mervyn’s to find a new home, and gives Wal-Mart a second location in Tempe to build more market share. Save Tempe has a meeting with Mayor Hugh Hallman on May 22nd, at which time the group plans to present their petition with 700 area signatures in opposition to the plan. Mayor Hallman has been receiving a flood of correspondence on this issue, but he clearly needs to hear more. Please email His Honor at [email protected], or call him at (480) 350-8865. Mayor Hallman is a business law attorney, and an economist. His resume says he has worked with many of the country’s top economists in analyzing markets and competition in various industries. Tell the Mayor that another Wal-Mart brings no added value to Tempe’s economy, adds no new jobs, but merely shifts sales from other cash registers to theirs. Supercenters and residential neighborhoods don’t mix well. It’s all about the traffic. For further background on this story, go to www.savetempe.org.