Move over, George W. An unusual tourist attraction that features some of America’s most powerful men is being squeezed out by a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter. According to the Virginia Gazette, the “Presidents Park” attraction, which features giant busts of the 43 American Presidents, could have to find a new home if Wal-Mart buys the land on which the Presidents reside. The attraction includes narrative information on each inhabitant of the White House, including their height and weight. The owner of Presidents Park, Harley Newman, doesn’t want to sell the land, but one of his partners has passed away, and the heirs don’t want anything to do with the 43 Presidents. Newman has not taken the big step yet of selling to Wal-Mart, but none of the Presidents will be able to veto that move. “We don’t have a contract with anyone yet,” Newman told the Gazette. If Wal-Mart buys the land, it will sit directly across from a huge “lifestyle center” that is under development, called the Marquis Shopping Center. A developer already has approval to build an 800,000 s.f. retail complex. One York County Commissioner has called the Marquis center “a new dimension, a lifestyle shopping center that we don’t have in York County.” The center is expected to attract retailers like JC Penney, Best Buy and Dick’s Sporting Goods. But a local commercial real estate broker is fighting to protect President’s Park, and reject Wal-Mart. Chris Henderson, a member of the James City County Planning Commission, told the Gazette that Presidents Park adds value to the region. “I think it would be a shame to lose it for the sake of another big-box store,” Henderson admitted. He’s trying to attract investors who would set up a non-profit to run the Park. “Then it would have an educational mission.” But Wal-Mart has an educational mission too. It wants to improve the math score of its stock, and attract more families for back-to-school specials. Parcel owner Newman says he doesn’t want to sell out the Presidents either. “My loyalty is to Presidents Park,” he told the newspaper. After all, business at the park seems to be good. Newman said attendance rose 20% last year. “It hasn’t been the immediate success that I’d hoped for and the investors had hoped for when we opened,” he said. Newman says that one developer has approached him to build a presidential-themed hotel near the park. Instead of shopping in the housewares aisle of Wal-Mart, visitors could sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. Newman is asking $4 million for Presidents Park.
You don’t have to be a fan of the current occupant of the Oval Office to appreciate the unique destination value of Presidents Park. The attraction has a bust of George W. Bush as part of the exhibit. Henderson says that Presidents Park has never received its proper respect as a piece of economic development — but this much is certain: Presidents Park will never steal sales away from existing merchants, never outsource jobs to China, and never worsen our foreign trade deficit. Its 100% Made in America, unlike today’s Wal-Mart. Readers are urged to contact the Chairman of the York County Supervisors, Tom Shepperd, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairman Shepperd, I am hoping that the Supervisors will not stand by and allow the Presidents Park to get voted out of office. This tourist attraction should be promoted, not abandoned. Does everything quirky and unique about America have to be displaced to make way for yet another Wal-Mart? There are already Wal-Mart supercenters in Gloucester, Newport News, and Yorktown — and Williamsburg has a Wal-Mart discount store. It would be a shame to move Presidents Park just to pave over another piece of colorful Virginia. You can stop this speculation now, by passing an ordinance that limits the size of retail stores to 75,000 s.f. Or, you can simply change the zoning on Presidents Park to make it business/tourist only. It was bad enough when Wal-Mart tried to build on Ferry Farm, the boyhood home of George Washington. Now the giant retailer is taking on 43 Presidents at once. I urge you to save Presidents Park, and veto the proposed Wal-Mart when it raises its ugly head — or bust — as the case may be.”