Wal-Mart tried to squeeze too much into Port Orange, Florida, and now their departure is putting the squeeze on the city. Port Orange, population 56,000, already has a Wal-Mart supercenter on Dunlawton Avenue. For a city this size, that one supercenter is adequate. There’s another Wal-Mart supercenter just over 3 miles away in Daytona Beach. So the trade area is not deprived of cheap, Chinese imports. So it was not a great loss to the economy this week when the Daytona Beach News-Journal announced that corporate headquarters in Arkansas had pulled the plug on the 46th Wal-Mart supercenter project since last June. That’s when Wal-Mart stunned many shareholders at its Annual Meeting by announcing a major cutback in its new store growth plans. That announcement has now squeezed a superstore out of Port Orange. The news was left to Port Orange Mayor Allen Green to announce. “The (Wal-Mart) board made a decision it’s not in their best interest to pursue it,” the Mayor said. “They did not say definitely what they’re going to do.” Thus ends two years of work on the part of the city. And then the Mayor added, “They were trying to fit way too much on that piece of property.” On March 26 Wal-Mart sent a note to the city asking that their the site plan applications be sent back to the city’s Planning Commission. “We continue to examine various options for addressing the City’s concerns, and we are now in the process of significantly revising the proposed development plans,” the letter states. The original 128,000 s.f. superstore appears to be dead, because a company spokesman said that Wal-Mart might put a Neighborhood Market in the city instead, which would be ‘only’ 53,000 s.f. — less than half the size of the superstore. The supercenter squeeze was great news for local residents who had fought the 24/7 superstore. Residents said such a store would increase crime in the area. Port Orange’s Director of Community Development told the News-Journal that the plans for the area now include much smaller stores. “It’s a major change to go to a smaller store with out-parcels,” he said. “It’s almost like going back to the drawing board.” Wal-Mart has pulled its superstore plans, but is not promising anything firm in its place — or even any timetable. “At this point we don’t have a date,” a company representative said.
Port Orange is just one more victim of Wal-Mart’s nation-wide squeeze play. On June 1, 2007, Wal-Mart announced it would do an internal review on planned stores throughout the nation. “We’ve been looking at sites across the country making sure we are growing in the right way,” Wal-Mart told the News-Journal. “This change is a part of that review.” This gives the city of Port Orange a chance to ask the same question: “Are we growing in the right way?” Or, as one Mayor once said to Sprawl-Busters: “It’s not how big you grow, but how you grow big.” Port Orange describes itself as a community that “blends beauty and opportunity… From its tree-lined streets to its parks.” In fact, Port Orange defines itself as “150 distinct neighborhoods.” The city has been operating under a Vision Statement prepared 10 years ago, which boasts of “a premier, unique, accessible, safe, and innovative city.” Readers are urged to email Port Orange Mayor Allen Green at [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Green, Wal-Mart has left Port Orange at the altar. The retailer said it was ‘making sure we are growing in the right way.’ The city should ask itself the same question. You take pride in the fact that Port Orange is unique and innovative, ‘where people feel at home and experience a sense of community.’ Does another huge supercenter make sense in such a community? Would it be more consistent with your efforts to redevelop your Town Center and marina, to adopt a cap on the size of retail buildings, and make companies like Wal-Mart fit into Port Orange — and not the reverse. A cap of 75,000 s.f. makes more sense for your future than suburban sprawl. The superstore cancellation is a super opportunity to engage in some thoughtful planning. One giant supercenter in Port Orange, is one more than enough. Don’t let Wal-Mart squeeze Port Orange again.”