Blaine Wal-Mart hopes to move across the road

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 12, 2013 - 4:19 PM

The big-box retailer is exploring plans to open a superstore 2,000 feet from its existing store. Critics say it will destroy a neighborhood.

Unsatisfied with the confines of its 142,000-square-foot building in Blaine, Wal-Mart wants to build a new supersized store across the street.

The big-box retailer, which operates a store on the west side of Interstate 35W, wants to construct a superstore on the east side that would include a full line of groceries. The newly proposed 180,000-square-foot store would be less than a mile’s drive from the old store — about 2,000 feet as the crow flies.

It’s a short distance, but it could mean a big boost in sales for Wal-Mart. It would free the store from a development covenant that limits the sale of groceries at it current location in the Village of Blaine shopping complex, according to city planning staff. Cub Foods is in the same shopping complex with the existing Wal-Mart.

Opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart seems par for the course these days, and this store is no exception. Opposing community members say this proposal is big-box bullying at its worst because there’s already a Wal-Mart close by and another Wal-Mart superstore under construction on Blaine’s west side, just 5 miles away. Opposing neighbors, whose front doors would be steps from the proposed store, are now imploring the City Council to choose community interests over corporate ones.

“It’s ridiculous,” said homeowner Linda Larkin, who opposes the plan. “It’s just going to devastate this area.”

The city’s planning director said the Ball Road property that Wal-Mary is eyeing has long been zoned for commercial use. There’s already some manufacturing in the area.

“From a big-picture standpoint, it’s the remaining corner on a freeway interchange. It’s been commercially guided and zoned since the 1970s,” said Bryan Schafer, Blaine’s planning and community development director. “It was commercial when the homes went in.”

City Council members, who will ultimately decide, are bracing for controversy.

“I know it’s going to get nasty,” said Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan. “We have a ton to look at it, including the transportation part of it and environmental part of it.”

Wal-Mart’s representatives and the city of Blaine now will prepare an environmental assessment work sheet that looks at traffic, noise and other impacts if the store is built on the 39-acre lot on Ball Road. That’s the precursor to submitting a development plan.

Wal-Mart first opened its doors in the Village of Blaine in 2002 after muscling Target out of the site. The city was selling land that would become part of the Village shopping complex along Lexington Avenue just west of I-35W. Both Target and Wal-Mart wanted to build there.

Wal-Mart threw in a $500,000 parks donation and won the bid, Schafer confirmed. According to property records, Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust paid $4 million for the site.

“The irony is the Ball Road site was available in 2001,” Schafer said.

Schafer said Wal-Mart agreed to a deed restriction limiting grocery sales with the shopping center’s master developer. That was before the explosion of the 24-hour superstore concept where big boxes bolster sales with full-service grocery sections, Schafer explained.

“This issue between big-box stores and [grocery stores] is happening all over the country. All these stores like Target and Wal-Mart all went in next to grocery stores and signed these covenants back then. It didn’t matter. While that was not an issue in 2001, it is today,” Schafer said.

Schafer said he’s been told that Wal-Mart officials have approached Cub Foods about the grocery restriction, but he’s not privy to the details of that discussion.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss contractual issues or the business decision of our competitors, but I can tell you that Cub is proud to be a part of the Blaine community and appreciates the opportunity we’ve had to serve the grocery needs of area residents in this location since 2001,” said Cub spokesman Mike Siemienas in a written statement.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia also declined to discus the covenant, but she did say customer demand drives their decisionmaking.

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