On January 29, 2009 — just about a year ago — Sprawl-Busters reported that Haywood, North Carolina officials had a big hole to fill that once was a Wal-Mart discount store on Route 74 in the Clyde area. The vacant Wal-Mart has been there since a Wal-Mart supercenter, with 188,494 s.f., opened in Waynesville on October 1, 2008 — just eight miles down the road from the original location in Clyde. The Wal-Mart discount store in Clyde that was closed was built in 1990, and is 116,061 s.f. The Smoky Mountain News reported that what was once a bustling retail market and taxpaying property was now slated to go off the tax rolls entirely and become the new home of the Haywood County Department of Health and Social Services. One year later, the deal has still not jelled. According to the News, Commissioners are still considering the old Wal-Mart site. The county wants to buy the 20 year old Wal-Mart because its the cheapest option they have, making it a ‘bargain’ for the taxpayers, Commissioner Mark Swanger told the News. The current DSS building was constructed in the 1920s. “It would require millions in renovations, heating, air, roof windows and you still have an inadequate space for doing business,” Swanger explained. The DSS building needs a new roof, windows, and electrical wiring. “We could go on and on about what it would cost us, we would still have an old building,” another Commissioner noted. A new building is also out of the question, the Commissioners say, costing as much as $30 million. So taking over the dead Wal-Mart makes financial sense. The Wal-Mart property itself will need a lot of work. It was described by the News as a “gaping retail shell.” But at least it has a roof and a parking lot. The County says if they put a DSS office into the building, it will act as an anchor for the shopping center and stimulate adjacent businesses. Over the past ten years, the county has been building a new Justice Center, a new jail, and a remodeled courthouse. So officials don’t have much capital left to spend on the new DSS space. “I suppose it has been just a matter of priorities,” Swanger explained. Negotiations with Wal-Mart Realty have been going on for at least a year. “If we don’t do something now, it’s going to cost us much more in the future to buy property and start building,” one Commissioner pointed out. If the county does move into the building, the dead Wal-Mart would be subdivided between the DSS offices and the Tractor Supply Company, which is also in negotiations for part of the Wal-Mart building. When Wal-Mart left a gaping hole in the strip mall where it was located to move to the other side of town in 2008, Commissioners began thinking about using the vacant store. They decided not to pursue it at the time given the county’s economic situation with the recession. At that time Commissioners were seeking a federal loan of up to $11 million to purchase and renovate the Wal-Mart. The area had lost a Goody’s clothing store, which was one of many casualties of the big box retailers. Goody’s left behind a store front in a strip mall in Waynesville. Home Depot canceled plans at the last minute to open a new store in Waynesville, leaving a hole next to the new big box retail complex where Super Wal-Mart moved to. Last year at this time, the Commissioners’ economic development staff said, “Right now, there’s not a whole lot of retailers that are looking to expand. Everybody’s pretty cautious right now. The county’s interest (in the Wal-Mart property) is very encouraging.” Commissioners said in January of 2009 that money from the federal stimulus package could help finance the purchase of the Wal-Mart building, but it was unclear how long it would take for the money to trickle down to local governments.
There are currently 9 Wal-Mart “dark stores” in North Carolina. Wal-Mart has several private real estate brokers trying to sell these properties. The official Wal-Mart line is that its Realty division has no problem disposing of these properties, but in many situations, these large “ghost boxes” are hard to remarket because there are very few businesses looking for such large buildings. Wal-Mart has left hundreds of ‘dark stores’ in its wake as it moves through small town America, causing local officials to worry about being stuck with huge, empty stores that cannot easily be recycled. One has to wonder what officials in Clyde would have said in 1990 if Wal-Mart had told them that in less than 20 years their proposed discount store would be closed and left for the county to buy. For the town of Clyde, this represents a major loss of revenue. The County will not pay property taxes on the building, and there will be little sales tax from the Tractor Supply Company compared to a Wal-Mart store. The big winner is Wal-Mart, which will sell off its dead store, and make more money at its superstore 8 miles away. This leapfrog development is a perfect example of the sprawl that happens when there is no regional planning. In this case, Waynesville took away Clyde’s store, when the Clyde store could have been reformatted to become a superstore. Wal-Mart today is building superstores that are 99,000 s.f. The Clyde Wal-Mart was 116,061 s.f. No relocation was necessary in the first place, and Clyde’s store was clearly meant for Waynesville and surrounding towns, because Clyde’s tiny population could never support a discount store on its own. Readers are urged to email Haywood County Commission Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairman Kirkpatrick, Please don’t use federal or county tax dollars to buy an empty Wal-Mart that bad planning created. Clyde and Waynesville should never have allowed Wal-Mart to abandon its ‘old’ store in the first place, just to move to bigger quarters 8 miles away. They could have reformatted their existing store in Clyde into a superstore, and today you’d have no dead store to worry about. But the idea of using federal stimulus money to write a check to Wal-Mart — which doesn’t need any more federal subsidies — is irresponsible. Instead, call over to the new Wal-Mart superstore manager, Jerry Presley at (828) 452-5090 and ask him to write to the corporate central office in Bentonville, Arkansas, asking Wal-Mart to donate the land and building to the county. It’s the least they can do to repay the county and the town of Clyde for leaving you with an empty building that could have been avoided in the first place. Don’t subsidize Wal-Mart with tax dollars — ask them for a charitable donation that they can take as a tax write-off.”