Plymouth city officials have not heard from Wal-Mart for more than eight months as residents wait anxiously for the retail giant to submit an application to build at the site of the vacant Four Seasons Mall.
In November 2010, Wal-Mart purchased the 21-acre property at the corner of Hwy. 169 and Rockford Road for $10.6 million, originally intending to demolish the half-vacant strip mall and build a 240,000-square-foot Supercenter in its place.
After facing resistance from the neighborhood and a yearlong development moratorium from the City Council, the Arkansas-based retailer has decided to take its time in submitting an application to the city.
“It’s something that’s hanging over everyone’s head,” said Council Member Ginny Black, who represents the area of Plymouth that includes Four Seasons. “People drive by [Four Seasons] all the time thinking, ‘I wonder what they’re going to do?’ … Sometimes it’s just better to know than to have all that uncertainty out there.” Black added that she was “disappointed” that Wal-Mart has gone so long without communicating with city staff and that her constituents are “overwhelmingly opposed” to the construction of a massive Wal-Mart at the Four Seasons site, although many would be amenable to a smaller store.
“Wal-Mart is continuously looking for new ways to serve its customers across the state of Minnesota. Though we have not submitted a proposal to the city of Plymouth, we are still working on plans to develop the former site of Four Seasons Mall,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rachel Wall wrote in an e-mail sent through the Minneapolis-based public relations firm Karwoski and Courage.
Wal-Mart declined to answer any follow-up questions, and Peter Coyle, a Minneapolis-based attorney who has been working for Wal-Mart on the Four Seasons site, did not respond to interview requests.
Study knocked Supercenter
On Dec. 14, 2010, just three weeks after Wal-Mart purchased Four Seasons, Plymouth accepted a $100,000 grant from the Metropolitan Council to conduct a market study to suggest potential redevelopment uses and analyze potential traffic and water issues at the Four Seasons site. The City Council enacted a development moratorium at the site until the study was completed.
The study found that the neighborhood could support about 86,000 square feet of retail space, far less than the original 240,000-square-foot Supercenter or Wal-Mart’s smaller 150,000-square-foot stores. The study also cited several factors as potential concerns for a large retail client: poor soil conditions and 4 acres of uninhabitable wetlands on the property, traffic concerns on Lancaster Lane, which features sharp curves as it travels south from the Rockford Road intersection, an irregular, skinny land parcel, and its proximity to the residential neighborhoods to the west.
A mixed-use development containing a combination of medical office, office, retail and senior housing was ultimately recommended.
A Wal-Mart representative told the City Council in May 2011 that Wal-Mart had planned to submit an application in January 2011, but that was tabled once the moratorium was in place. In November 2011, the City Council accepted the findings of the study and lifted the moratorium, but in the subsequent year and a half, Wal-Mart has not submitted an application.
“It’s up to the property owner to come forward with a plan that they feel comfortable with and that they feel the City Council may have some interest in,” said Steve Juetten, Plymouth’s community development director.
Other battles in the metro
This year the Four Seasons property was valued at slightly more than $10 million, according to Hennepin County tax records, an increase of nearly $1.5 million from last year. Wal-Mart has paid more than $735,000 in property taxes over the past two years.
Last month, Wal-Mart broke ground on a new store in Roseville after some controversy, and in December 2011, Chanhassen denied a proposal by Wal-Mart to build a 120,000-square-foot store on a 14-acre site. Five other Wal-Marts have been built around the metro area in recent years without considerable opposition.
The last time anyone in Plymouth heard from Wal-Mart was at a community meeting held Oct. 10, 2012. At that meeting, representatives from Wal-Mart gave a short presentation and hosted a question-and-answer session, but details on an upcoming proposal were scant.
The Middle-East Plymouth Homeowners Association has experienced increased interest among neighbors since Wal-Mart’s purchase of Four Seasons Mall, and many of its members attended the 2012 meeting.
“We have an all-American city that the neighbors are very satisfied with, so we’re a little uptight about any big commercial activity that might disrupt that,” said former Middle-East Plymouth Homeowner Association President Roger Eggen. “We don’t oppose Wal-Mart just because they’re the largest retailer in the world, that’s not the idea; we just want to maintain our quality of life in this part of the city.”