In 2005, a developer in Porterville, California announced that he was bouncing Wal-Mart from his retail development. Porterville already had an existing Wal-Mart discount store # 1877.
On December 20, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had been dumped from a 640,000 s.f. shopping center — before the plans even reached the City Council. The so-called “Riverwalk” project was slated to be Porterville’s largest retail center in more than a decade. This superstore project would have closed down the existing Wal-Mart on West Henderson Avenue in Porterville — although Wal-Mart refused to confirm that with local officials.
Porterville describes itself as “a bustling city of 52,000 (which) serves as a trade center to over 100,000 people. The economy is a thriving mixture of agri-business, light industry, and commercial enterprise. Recently, the emphasis has been on commercial development.
Wal-Mart did not go away after they were dropped from the Riverwalk project. The retailer kept looking for opportunities to open up a superstore in Porterville, and managed to insert itself into a second Riverwalk project next to the first retail phase.
This week, the Porterville Recorder reported that the company’s proposed 188,075 s.f. superstore project was on hold now for several months, and it is being reduced in size. 43,374 s.f. of the store would be for groceries and food support area.
“The proposed Porterville super Walmart is shrinking,” the newspaper said. “38,000 s.f. is being cut from the footprint. This is about a 20% reduction in size. “Although the size of the store is changing,” the newspaper said, “every other aspect of the proposal remains intact, including a full-service grocery store, drive-thru pharmacy and outdoor garden center.” Wal-Mart would not comment on why the store was being shrunk, except to say, “it really is just being about the most efficient use of that space.”
This change in scope means the city’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, which was released last March, will have to be changed. The existing report concluded that the opening of another grocery store within Wal-Mart could force another area grocery store to close.
The city cancelled a public hearing on the project, but told the Recorder the cancellation decision was based on the fact that “Wal-Mart needs more time to respond to the comments on the EIR.”
Wal-Mart is telling local officials that its existing discount store on Henderson Avenue in Porterville will not be closed. This runs counter to almost every project Wal-Mart has built where a superstore is close to a discount store. The discount store ends up closing when the superstore opens for business.
In the DEIR report issued last March, the study concluded, “The City is in an area that is not meeting its full potential for economic activity, as there is a projected need for retail space. However, the grocery portion of the proposed project may create an impact on existing grocery sales in the City.”
So Wal-Mart is shrinking its store in Porterville, and the head of the local chamber of commerce said that was a good thing, because “the smaller size will be a better fit for Porterville,” according to the Recorder.
Readers are urged to contact Porterville, CA. Mayor Pete McCracken at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor McCracken, You note that Porterville ‘is a gateway to some of the most magnificent National Parks and recreational opportunities.’ Yet your pursuit of big box stores is turning Porterville into the gateway to magnificent sprawl. Your General Plan says you are emphasizing ‘local community development’ — but your energy and resources are going into huge, regional retail projects that feature national chain stores. This is not the path to what you call the ‘Good Life’ in Porterville.
If you look at the DEIR’s produced in California communities recently like Ceres and Tehachapi, you will see that the arrival of a Wal-Mart supercenter means the closure of at least one or more grocery stores. In Porterville, the existing Wal-Mart on West Henderson will be history also, and it is not going to be easy to ever fill it again. Add to that an empty grocery store, and you will end up with two more dead stores as a trade-off for one Wal-Mart superstore.
Before you make a big mistake, I urge you and the city council to reject this store — even at its ‘smaller’ size. Wal-Mart is building superstores around 80,000 s.f. If you can get them down to that level, you will lower the overall negative impacts to your city on merchants, crime, and traffic. They will shrink the store more — but you have to take the leadership to ask.”