There’s an empty parking lot in Manatee County, Florida that should have had a Wal-Mart superstore on it by now. But slow sales in the United States are putting a crimp in a number of Wal-Mart projects. In Manatee County, Wal-Mart is feeling the heat of a slowing economic outlook.
If there is one thing that anti-big box activists have learned over the years, its that Wal-Mart Realty is like a dog on a bone. Once they have chosen a community, they do not give up, even when they lose the first round or two in a fight. They will regroup, find another site, or make a second or third try at an existing site. They can be harder to get rid of than poison ivy, and much more damaging.
In Manatee County, Wal-Mart survived a defeat six years ago, and came back to get approved. On January 1, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that homeowners in Manatee County were celebrating a hard-fought year-long victory against Benderson Development. The Manatee County Commission voted unanimously against letting Wal-Mart build a 200,000 s.f store next to the University Park neighborhood. More than 400 residents exploded into cheers when he decision was announced.
Six years later, there is still no Wal-Mart superstore project in Manatee — but the retailer has not given up. Wal-Mart separated from Benderson, and went its own way. In 2008, the giant retailer spent $11.6 million to buy 41 acres on Route 70 E. But in 2009, Wal-Mart announced that construction of the new store was being delayed.
The news this week is that Wal-Mart now says that work on the 150,000 s.f. store will not start until early 2011, with a ribbon cutting in the spring of 2012. The Bradenton Herald says Wal-Mart’s plans were iced due to the “flagging economy.”
If you visit the Wal-Mart site today, there is a new parking lot, but no structure — just a popular hangout for the birds. The site is approved for construction, but the economy has done what local officials should have done: slowed down the project.
Ironically, the same fate awaited the original Benderson Development University Town Center project at University Parkway. Benderson blamed “poor economic conditions” for lack of progress at the 276 acre megamall — which no longer has a Wal-Mart in it. Like Wal-Mart, Benderson said it would “await more favorable economic conditions” before putting the project back on line.
Readers are urged to email Donna Hayes, the Chairwoman of the Manatee County Board of Commissioners at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairwoman Hayes, You surely remember the elation back in January of 2004 when Wal-Mart’s plans for a superstore were dashed. Now, the slow economy has delayed work on the retailer’s new site in Manatee County.
The proposed project on Route 70E will not bring added jobs and revenues to Manatee. What you will see increased is traffic and crime — but no real added economic value.
Sprawl development in Manatee County is more of a threat to tourism than the Horizon Oil Spill. Your county survives on tourism to Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key. But putting suburban sprawl-marts along your roadways detracts from the unique sense of place that you are trying to create.
Use this opportunity of a Wal-Mart delay to go back to the company and urge them to shrink their store to 80,000 s.f. — which is the size of superstores they are building elsewhere in Florida. You can lead growth, or follow it. If you let companies like Wal-Mart define your built landscape, they will lead you into a concrete and asphalt wasteland.”