Wal-Mart has managed to paddle itself upstream, and now can’t find a paddle to turn around. Cordova, Tennessee is a community located on the northeast side of the City of Memphis with a population of roughly 53,000 people. A relatively low-profile community, the Cordova area experienced major retail growth during the 1990s, with the development of the Wolfchase Galleria mall, which was the largest retail center in the county outside of Memphis. This spawned further growth along many of the major roadways, including Houston Levee Road and Macon Road and Germantown Road. In terms of the retail sector, the 2005 census shows 109 retail esablishments in Cordova. 84% of those businesses had 20 or less employees. But Cordova has been in an uproar in 2008 because of plans to build a Wal-Mart supercenter. A non-profit group, the Gray’s Creek Assocation (GCA), had been putting up signs along a large area of unincorporated land that read: “Gray’s Creek Preservtion Area.” The group is pushing for smart growth development of Cordova, not Wal-Marts. The area is already saturated with Wal-Marts. A total of 14 Wal-Mart stores are located within 20 miles of Cordova, including a Wal-Mart supercenter on Germantown Parkway just minutes away, and supercenter in Bartlett 4 miles away. In fact, 8 of the 14 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Cordova are supercenters, so there is no conceivable market need for additional Wal-Marts. The location of Wal-Mart’s latest proposal along Macon and Houston Levee roads, is located on land within the Gray’s Creek Plan, a set of guidelines that Memphis and Shelby County adopted to preserve the area’s property values and to protect it from intense commercial growth. The GCA has set its focus now on opposing Wal-Mart. “We are a pro-development group,” a leader of GCA told the Commercial Appeal newspaper. “But the haphazard way things have been handled in the past, case by case, has produced a hodgepodge of development both commercial and residential, and the public as a whole has lost confidence in knowing what will come into their neighborhoods.” Folks in Cordova had been hoping that Wal-Mart would build their store in the 1.2 million s.f. Mall of Memphis. The giant retailer was under contract to buy 22.5 acres of land there, and had submitted site plans for a 175,000 s.f. store with city and county officials. But last November, Wal-Mart announced that it was pulling out of the Mall of Memphis, citing the company’s national retrenchment of new superstore development. The cutback in store production was interpreted as Wal-Mart’s response to Wall Street critics who wanted the company to stop cannibalizing its own stores by packing them so close to one another. Yesterday, CBS News 3 reported that neighbors were not pleased with Wal-Mart’s plans for the Houston Levee road store. “I don’t think they’ve been very considerate of the neighbors around here,” one neighbor abutting the 27 acre site told the TV station. “It’s just Wal-Mart’s open twenty-four seven, there’d be people coming in and going out all the time, we’d hear all the traffic,” she said. Apparently traffic also concerns county planners, who last month recommended that the Land Use Control Board (LUCB) toss out Wal-Mart’s plan, because the local roadways cannot handle the influx of projected traffic. “I’m not oppposed to Wal-Mart,” another neighbor told CBS, “but I think it needs to be on a location where it’s easy access for consumers, people can go in and out safely. Unless they can show it’s not going to impact the safety of anyone, and they’re going to foot the bill for any expansion, I really don’t see them bringing anything to the table.” As the neighbors got more upset, Wal-Mart began asking the LUCB for more time to work on their plan. The retailer has asked the Board to delay its hearing now until February. The Board had already agreed once to give county planners more time to review the project, and for community groups to meet with the Wal-Mart, to urge the company to come up with more of a “creative town center-style design” according to the Commercial Appeal. County Planners agreed with neighbors that the Board should reject the plan because of worries of how the intersection of two lane roads would handle the cars. Wal-Mart’s reaction to these concerns showed more than a little corporate insensitivity. “We neither agree nor disagree,” said Wal-Mart’s senior manager of public affairs. “Traffic is a concern with that location for both sides. But it’s not incumbent upon Wal-Mart to fix the county’s traffic problem.” That kind of comment is bound to engender local sympathy.
Wal-Mart has told the local media that even though they pulled their plans for a similarly-sized superstore from the Mall of Memphis, that they are not backing down on Cordova, and are not deterred by the delay at the LUCB. But so far all they’ve encountered is rejection — from residents and from planners. Wal-Mart claims that even though they already have one supercenter 5 miles away on Germantown Parkway, and a 2nd. supercenter 6 miles away on Route 64, that they still want this one. Of their national decision to cut back new superstores, the public affairs manager told the Commercial Appeal, “We took a hard look internally. We saw the benefit of looking at stores we currently had and improving operation of that store, rather than continue to expand.” Wal-Mart says their stores in the Cordova area are “doing quite well.” So well, that they need another supercenter to spread out the demand. Readers are urged to help the residents of Gray’s Creek, by emailing Chip Saliba, Manager of the Land Use Control Section of the Memphis and Shelby Department of Planning & Development, at [email protected] (or calling 901-576-6619) with this message: “Please continue to oppose the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in the Gray’s Creek area. This community is already over-saturated with Wal-Mart supercenters, and the retailer clearly couldn’t care less about the traffic problems it will leave county taxpayers to pay for. This project is like cramming a size ten foot in a size 8 boot — it will cause local residents nothing but pain and discomfort. Stick with the Gray Creek Plan. People need to be reassured that these Plans are real, and not just more empty rhetoric.”