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2007-05-04
Bushnell, FL. Empty Wal-Mart Turned Into A Jail

What do you do with a huge, empty Wal-Mart? For the past decade, Sprawl-Busters has chronicled the moth-balling of hundred of what Wal-Mart calls their "dark stores." These are discount stores that Wal-Mart has abandoned -- not because they were unprofitable -- but because they were not profitable enough. Since 1995, Wal-Mart has been methodically shutting down hundreds of discount stores, and the retailer, operating through Wal-Mart Realty, has a team of real estate employees who are trying to sell, lease or give away these "old" buildings, many of which have been on the market for at least three years or more. There is no great pressure for Wal-Mart to sell these properties, since the company "rents" some of these buildings from itself, and deducts the rent as an expense from its taxable income at the state level. But Wall Street analysts have criticized the company for carrying so much dead space. The problem for Wal-Mart is that many of these buildings are larger than 100,000 s.f. and are not easy to market. In Florida, Wal-Mart currently has 3 properties for sale or lease, for a total of 238,740 s.f. But that's a vast improvement compared to 2004, when Wal-Mart had 11 properties for sale or lease in Florida, totaling 809,119 s.f. Many of these properties end up coming off the tax rolls, and never being completely filled. For example, The Daily Sun newspaper reports that the old Wal-Mart in Bushnell, Florida has been converted into -- of all things -- a jail. After more than a decade in the Sumter County Judicial Building, the Sumter County Sheriff's Office will move into the former Wal-Mart building in the South Sumter Shopping Center by the end of May. "Our new facilities are much larger than the space here in the Judicial Building with built-in room to grow," said Sheriff Bill Farmer. The new jail in the old Wal-Mart building on County Road 475 will have about three times as much space as the current location, plus 30,000 square feet available for future growth. "We're real excited about the move," sheriff's Maj. Jimmy Terry said. "Now we'll have plenty of space and room for a training facility. We'll be able to host training here for our employees and other agencies."

What you can do: The Sheriff may be excited, but taxpayers in Bushnell might not be thrilled with the prospect of losing the tax revenue that the old Wal-Mart generated. In this case, a revenue-producing property is now off the tax rolls, a clear step backwards for the community. Many of the reuses of dead Wal-Mart buildings are less advantageous for the community. In some cases, these stores have had to be torn down at taxpayer expense. If left empty for too long, the properties are vandalized, and become a public eyesore. So its better that the Sheriff has a new home -- but the real question to ask in Bushnell is: why did Wal-Mart need a new home? Hundreds of dead stores line our highways because Wal-Mart discovered that superstores can turn three times the profit of a traditional discount store. Other than filling up these cast-off buildings with prisoners, many communities find that reusing these huge stores is a real challenge. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "empty."










 
 
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