Wal-Mart flunked the course this week, as it lost out on a bitter battle to control land the retailer wanted to use for another undistinguished supercenter. According to a story in today’s Courier-Post, Rowan University has been given the green light by a New Jersey Superior Court judge to take control over 26 acres of land that Wal-Mart tried hard to wrestle away from the school. The University can take the land by eminent domain, leaving the state with one less Wal-Mart on Route 55. Rowan has plans to use the land as part of their western campus. Instead of a superstore, Rowan will build student housing, athletic fields, parking and academic buildings. The university had to file a lawsuit against the retailer in 2004 to try and pry the land loose, which they did yesterday. Rowan only filed the suit after trying to make purchase offers and negotiate a deal. But Wal-Mart never showed up for class. Because Rowan is a state institution, their board has the right to acquire land for college purposes via eminent domain. To hold onto the land, Wal-Mart had to charge that the university abused its power of eminent domain. Wal-Mart tried whatever it could to stop the deal, arguing that Rowan failed to provide a master plan justifying why it needs the 26-acre property. Things also got pretty nasty. Wal-Mart accused Rowan of wanting to buy the land because it doesn’t want to be known as the university behind the Wal-Mart. “Rowan wants to prevent the development just because they don’t like Wal-Mart,” Wal-Mart’s lawyer sneered. But the judge drew no lesson from Wal-Mart’s presentation, and awarded the land to the university. The Judge found that the university wanted the land for its western campus and not to keep Wal-Mart out. The court found that Rowan acted in good faith when it made its initial purchase offer to Wal-Mart The Judge will now appoint three condemnation commissioners to come up with a value for the property. Wal-Mart complains that the $2.85 million offered by Rowan is too low, because of rising real estate prices and the money Wal-Mart already sank into the project. Without Rowan’s intervention, this Wal-Mart was definitely signed, sealed and delivered. The town of Harrison had already given the store final site plan approvals. Wal-Mart said the court ruling was a “setback”, but the retailer could ask the court for reconsideration, or file an appeal.
Rowan University emerged victorious from this battle, and Wal-Mart needs a little tutoring in how to handle a state university. You can’t blame the university for not wanting to be known as the “university behind the Wal-Mart.” Apparently Wal-Mart’s low-brow image is not a good fit with a school that’s trying to promote people on the rise, not everyday low wages. In this case, the university passes, Wal-Mart flunks. They weren’t even a graceful loser. For an earlier story on the University V Wal-Mart, search this database by “Rowan.”