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2009-05-05
Batavia, IL. Wal-Mart Backs Away From Expansion To Superstore

City officials in Batavia, Illinois got some good news this week -- but they didn't even realize it. On April 23, 2009, the Kane County Chronicle carried a story about community gardening in Batavia. The president of Batavia Plain Dirt Gardeners Inc., told the newspaper that a local church used to have a community garden but the land was sold, she said. "It's where the Wal-Mart is now." It's called 'progress' when local churches and community gardens sprout into Wal-Marts, but now the giant retailer's plans for an even bigger Wal-Mart in Batavia has wilted. The Chronicle reports this week that Wal-Mart is backing away from plans to expand its Batavia store on North Randall Road. One of the considerations for Wal-Mart must be the fact that there is already Wal-Mart superstore #4405 less than 3 miles away in Aurora, Illinois. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper that the soonest the expansion of the existing discount store in Batavia would take place would be late in 2010, or even 2011. This delay has local officials in Batavia wringing their hands. "We'd be really disappointed if they held off on this," said Batavia's Community Development Director. "We are looking forward to seeing them move forward on this." Wal-Mart first notified local officials of their desire to grow the store bigger in 2008, and indicated that construction could start in late 2009. The existing store was slated to be expanded from 150,000 s.f. to 210,000 s.f. According to The Chronicle, "about half the store (would be) dedicated to selling groceries." The existing North Randall Road site has only been open since 2005. In many other parts of the nation, a 150,000 s.f. store would be more than sufficient to convert into a superstore -- with no additional square footage, no permits, and no community opposition. Wal-Mart hinted at that fact when talking with the Batavia newspaper. The company said the delay in store expansion had no direct connection to the faltering economy, but more to do with Wal-Mart's "store expansion program," which has been evolving since June of 2007. "We're always looking at that program with a fresh set of eyes," the Wal-Mart spokesman said, adding that the corporation is considering the idea of "simply reworking the store's interior to allow for the inclusion of certain aspects of a supercenter within the existing space," The Chronicle wrote. The fear that the company might relocate from the North Randall Road site was dismissed by Wal-Mart. "That is a great location there," the company official said. "We are still planning to go ahead with improving it, but we are still trying to determine how to proceed with expanding it and what the timing might be."

What you can do: In Batavia City Hall they may never have heard the term "in-box conversion," but that appears to be the latest game plan in Bentonville and Batavia. Wal-Mart has apparently discovered that it can make discount stores into superstores without making any site changes at all. The advantage of this is that the company saves development costs, and the permitting costs of what can be contentious public debates over bigger stores. In other parts of the country, Wal-Mart has begun in-box conversions on footprints that are smaller than the store on North Randall Road. Some superstores have been under 100,000 s.f., so Wal-Mart can just renovate the interior floor space to create a different product mix. Company officials have said smaller supercenters can make just as much money as larger supercenters, and the 'smaller' stores are more economically and environmentally sustainable. They also can come online much faster than new construction or an addition. Readers are urged to email Batavia Mayor Jeffery D. Schielke at mayor@cityofbatavia.net with the following message: "Dear Mayor Schielke, You have a city that sponsors a "Green Walk" in its downtown. You rightly boast that your city is "steeped in small town charm and tradition." For a city of just over 27,300 people, your existing Wal-Mart on North Randall Road is more than enough to meet your retail needs. You should be pleased when Wal-Mar tells you that expansion of their existing store to 210,000 s.f. is on hold. This is not a form of economic development. Wal-Mart will soon tell you that they plan to simply do an 'in-box conversion,' which means they will convert the North Randall store into a supercenter, without expanding their footprint. You should greet this news enthusiastically -- even encourage them now to do that. Whether Wal-Mart expands or just converts its store -- either way Batavia will see more businesses close, especially area grocery stores. The city should be focusing its vision on forms of economic development that add value to the local economy, not displace it. A Wal-Mart supercenter will not bring you small town charm. It will cause your traffic and crime to increase. Your community is better off with no expansion project. Let Wal-Mart know you are fine with that option."










 
 
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