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2008-01-20
Colonie, NY. Wal-Mart Back For A Second Try, Dumps Major Mall Owner

Wal-Mart struck out once with a supercenter project in the town of Colonie, New York (pop. 80,000). Now the company wants to shut down an existing store in the area, leave one of the largest mall developers in the nation with a hole in its mall, and open a bigger Wal-Mart two miles away. No wonder residents in Colonie are scratching their heads. In June of 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that developer Widewaters Group, of DeWitt, New York, had gotten into water over its head in a number of land schemes. The company lost supercenter battles in Saratoga Springs and Ballston, New York, in Bangor, Maine. Widewaters also ran into rough seas in Ithaca and Greece, New York. The Albany Times Union reported a year and a half ago that Widewaters had walked away from the so-called "First Prize Center" project because the town wasn't supportive enough. After spending nearly a year trying in vain to gather neighborhood support, Widwaters pulled the plug. Widewaters would have had to spend a large sum to tear down the former Tobin meat-packing plant. But when the developer met with Colonie officials, the project went aground. "We met with the leadership ... and they told us they couldn't support it in any way," said a development manager at Widewaters. "There was not much point in going forward." The Town's Supervisor said the site was not appropriate for a big-box store and that the town would prefer a mix of retail and residential uses. "The amount of traffic I feel it would generate is not something we'd like to see in that area," she said. "It's still a residential neighborhood." Widewaters said it was shocked that the town would not support a Wal-Mart supercenter. "It wasn't meant to be under the current political leadership," the developer's spokesman added. "We weren't willing to swim upstream on this one." That was quite an analogy for a developer called Widewaters. But Wal-Mart played the waiting game in Colonie, and the Times-Union reported this week that the giant retailer was back to build a store off of Route 9. There are 8 Wal-Marts today within 10 miles of Colonie, including 4 supercenters in Glenville, Halfmoon, East Greenbush, and Glenmont. There's a Wal-Mart discount store in Albany two miles away, and a discount store in Latham four miles away. The Colonie supercenter will allow Wal-Mart to shut down its Latham store. The plan has not yet come before Colonie officials, but it would total 195,000 s.f., plus another 431,000 s.f. of asphalt parking lot and roads. The Times-Union says the property is behind a Holiday Inn and "is nearly invisible" from Route 9. But from the Northway side, the store and its parking lot would be "highly visible to thousands of passing motorists each day." A Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper, the proposal for a larger store "is really about finding a place where we could grow a little bit."

What you can do: The existing Wal-Mart in Latham, New York, which is less than two miles from the proposed site, is around 125,000 s.f., and was built in 1993. Wal-Mart will close this 14 year-old store, which is the size of two football fields. Wal-Mart spent money in 2001 remodeling the Latham store, but now they will add it to their current list of roughly 200 dead stores. While it was remodeled in 2001, Wal-Mart has systematically shut down nearl 1,000 discount stores in favor of the larger, more profitable supercenters. The "old" store has about 275 employees, many of whom will have to seek employment at the supercenter if it is approved. The supercenter will "create" 175 additional jobs, Wal-Mart says, but once you subtract grocery workers laid off at other merchants, the net impact on jobs and taxes is minimal. The 23 acre site that Wal-Mart wants is owned by a local car dealer. The site at one time was a drive-in movie theatre, but now is an empty field. So the Colonie Planning Board is going to be asked to fill 23 acres of open space for a retail use similar to one being vacated by the same company less than two miles away. The mall where the "old" Wal-Mart sits is owned by Kimco Realty. Kimco claims to be the nation's largest publicly traded owner and operator of neighborhood and community shopping centers with interests in over 950 centers totaling more than 147 million square feet. Kimco owns malls in 44 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. The company owns 70 malls in New York state alone. Across the country, Kimco has Wal-Mart anchors in 23 of its malls. The Latham Farms mall that Wal-Mart is leaving has 616,130 s.f., including a Dick's, Hannaford's grocery store, Home Depot, and Sam's Club. The Times-Union says Kimco can expect "several years" of rent from Wal-Mart while they search for a tenant. Wal-Mart says it expects the site plan approval process in Colonie to take a year and a half, and building the store another year. The project has its first hearing in late March. Readers are urged to contact the following members of the Colonie Town Board: Nicole Criscione-Szesnat (criscioneN@colonie.org ), Brian Hogan (hoganb@colonie.org) , Thomas With (withT@colonie.org), with the following message: "Colonie was right to reject the Wal-Mart/Widewaters plan. But now they are back ready to shut down their Latham Farms store, and move two miles away onto 23 acres of open space. In your 2005 Comprehensive Plan, it says about big malls, that 'while these commercial retail areas provide needed services to Town residents, many residents have expressed through the public outreach process concern over the amount of large scale development in the community.' Your plan says you will try to 'preserve key areas of open space in the Town.' This project makes no sense. It's the wrong size and the wrong place for Colonie.You open a bigger Wal-Mart, and you close another one two miles away. Where's the gain? I urge you to vote against this project."










 
 
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