Wal-Mart is hoping that officials in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania will accept the giant retailer’s definition of ‘small.’ When Wal-Mart shrinks the size of a store — they never really start to hit the small zone. Even a reduced Wal-Mart is still huge. Now the company is saying that a store three times the size of a football field is ‘revolutionary.’
In the case of North Huntingdon, which has roughly 30,000 people, Wal-Mart wants the Planning Commission to believe that a 155,000 s.f. superstore is ‘small.’ It is downsized from Wal-Mart’s initial 190,000 s.f. plan — but their original plan was too large for its market area.
Seven years ago, Wal-Mart presented the larger version of its plans to the township commissioners for land near the Irwin interchange on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The project was called Mills Pointe shopping center — to make it sound quaint and old-fashioned. Local officials actually approved the plan in 2003, but the project never got off the ground.
In the summer of 2009, Wal-Mart offered to build their superstore at 180,000 s.f. “Wal-Mart believes we can still serve customers of the Norwin area in a smaller footprint,” a Wal-Mart ‘design manager’ told the town. But plans for a 180,000 s.f. store were never submitted.
In early March of 2010, Wal-Mart unveiled its latest design, telling local officials what they tell everybody: this store will be unique, no one else has one quite like this one. “This store will be revolutionary. There won’t be another Wal-Mart like it in the entire country,” Wal-Mart’s architect told local officials. He said a smaller store would be more energy-efficient. But one North Huntingdon planner told Wal-Mart, “I’m really not happy with this. I feel the design is a downgrade.” So Wal-Mart offered to “report back to corporate and come back to the board with our solutions.”
According to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, Wal-Mart said it would ‘ease the concerns” of local officials. But a local businessman isn’t making Wal-Mart’s entry any easier. Businessman Marvin Sheffler appealed a highway occupancy permit that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued to the developer last December. Sheffler’s appeal of the PennDOT case has not yet been resolved.
On Monday, April 5, 2010, Wal-Mart will formally be back in front of the North Huntingdon planning commission seeking a design change for their Mills Pointe superstore. It’s hard to make a case that this new superstore is even needed. Residents of North Huntingdon have to travel less than 7 miles east to find an existing Wal-Mart superstore in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, or 7 miles west to find a superstore in North Versailles, Pennsylvania. There’s a third Wal-Mart supercenter to the east less than 9 miles away in Delmont, Pennsylvania. There are a total of 11 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of North Huntingdon — so area residents have plenty of choices to find cheap Chinese products.
Readers are urged to email Board of Commissioners member David Herold at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Commissioner Herold, Please share this message with the rest of the Board of Commissioners. I see no added value to adding another huge supserstore to the North Huntingdon retail trade area. We already have 3 Wal-Mart superstores within less than a 10 mile radius of our town. This kind of saturation is not good for the market. All it does is shift sales from existing merchants into Wal-Mart cash registers. This is not true economic growth — it’s economic displacement. Then there’s the size: The project began way too big for your community — and now they have cut it by 18% — but its still three times the size of a football field. The crime and the traffic that this huge store will attract is not the kind of growth I’d like to see. The Commissioners claim that their past actions have encouraged “commercial development which has resulted in an increase of ‘good jobs’ and a tax base from which the Board can continue progressive growth.” I hope you are not trying to sell this project as ‘good jobs’ or ‘progressive growth.’ These workers are going to end up on Medicaid for their health care, and they will not be working 40 hours a week. The ‘new’ jobs that Wal-Mart has promised will simply be transferred jobs from existing merchants and grocery stores which will close. You’d have to be economically illiterate to see Wal-Mart as an engine of economic growth. Our police costs will climb as this store attracts criminals as well as shoppers. In the past, the Commissioners have approved this project without the real economic facts. I urge you not to act again based on empty promises and voodoo economics. Keep in mind: North Huntingdon’s trade area is already saturated with superstores. This project helps only Wal-Mart, but adds no value to North Huntingdon.”