Tarpon Springs, FL. After Six Years, Wal-Mart Still Not Open
On September 18, 2010, Sprawl-Busters reported that after 5 years of butting its head against the WAL, the Wal-Mart corporation had finally given up its effort to build a huge superstore in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and was instead going to demolish a dead Kmart, and build at a size 59% smaller than their original plan.
Between 2005 and 2010 Sprawl-Busters wrote a dozen stories about the never-ending battle against Wal-Mart in Tarpon Springs. On November 22, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart opponents in Tarpon Springs, Florida were celebrating a major victory over the giant retailer. After years of pushing -- Wal-Mart announced that it was giving up the battle for a superstore-by-the-river.
Wal-Mart had been swimming against the public tide to build a supercenter on the banks of the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs. Despite Wal-Mart's refusal to rule out another attempt to build this store at some point down the road, the word spread that they were in the process of formally withdrawing their site plan application from the City. If they ever came back, they'll be starting the whole process all over -- and that seemed very unlikely.
The Tarpon Springs Board of Commissioners voted 3 to 2 in January of 2005 to approve an enormous Wal-Mart development on the Anclote River. The site plan approved included a 203,000 s.f. 24-hour supercenter with a 1,000 space parking lot, tire and lube center and an out parcel for a restaurant or retail store, plus 6 acres for residential or office development.
A citizens group called Friends of the Anclote River charged that the plan was an irresponsible project that would have adverse impacts on the ecology, the economy, the traffic burden, and the small town character and future of the community. The Friends of Anclote kept up their battle to protect their river. After several years of internal back-and-forth, on October 16, 2008, the Tarpon Springs Planning and Zoning Board voted to recommend the City Commission declare the site plan for the Wal-Mart was no longer valid.
A few days later, the City Commission voted 3-2 that the concurrency certificate had expired. On November 21, 2008, Wal-Mart withdrew its plans. The retailer said it was not selling the land -- just backing off building plans for at least two years. "We'll monitor the environment in Tarpon Springs over the next few years and determine what we'll do with the site," a company spokesman said.
But in the fall of 2010, the St. Peterburg Times reported that Wal-Mart was negotiating a deal to buy an empty Kmart building, which has been empty since the retailer closed its doors ten months ago. Kmart occupied the 84,180 s.f. building for 35 years. The building is owned by Kmart's parent company, Sears Holding Corporation.
The Mayor of Tarpon Springs said the building demolition plan was great. Mayor David Archie called the Wal-Mart deal "some of the best news I've heard lately. Being able to hire people within our city and looking at some of the goods and services that the old Kmart had and having that building occupied, which is at the gateway of our city, is also a plus. I don't see any negatives in terms of them occupying that building."
In the spring of 2011, a Wal-Mart spokesman said their recycled store would open in 2013. The company said its project would provide jobs to roughly 200 people -- but once you subtract out the jobs lost when Kmart closes, the net impact economically is negligible. Shoppers in Tarpon Springs have no shortage of choices when it comes to purchasing cheap Chinese goods There are no less than 16 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Tarpon Springs, including a superstore in Oldsmar and Port Richey, both about 9 miles away.
The Kmart had been in Tarpon Springs for 35 years. It shut down in November of 2009 -- two years ago. There were no public hearings on the Wal-Mart takeover. The whole Kmart building was demolished. Wal-Mart opponents who wanted the store nowhere near the Anclote River, told the media that they were satisfied with the compromise. "This is what the Friends of the Anclote River had requested all along," one of the original founders of the group said. "We would chant, 'Find another site, find another site.' "It's not hurting the environment, it's going into an existing location, it brings jobs and helps the tax base. I think Wal-Mart will be a good neighbor."
What you can do: Wal-Mart by the way still owns the 74 acres along U.S. 19 on the banks of the Anclote River. The company says it has "no intentions to develop that land. We are not marketing it or selling that land at this point." One city commissioner suggested that Wal-Mart should "decide to be a good neighbor" and sell the property to the city for ballparks and other recreational uses.
Readers are urged to email the new Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: "I'd like to see the city continue to apply pressure on the retailer to do the right thing and donate their property on the Anclote River. For starters, the company should be asked to donate the land to the city. Wal-Mart likes to talk about being a green company, and being environmentally sensitive. What better way to demonstrate their environmental concern than to donate the land to the city, and prevent taxpayers from having to buy the company out?
It is not the taxpayers' fault that Wal-Mart chose an inappropriate site by the river. Now they should repair the damage they have done to their image in Tarpon Springs by making a gift of the property to the public. They city should ask Wal-Mart publicly to make that donation during the current tax year, so they can write the donation off as a charitable gift. That would be an appropriate gift to Tarpon Springs residents, who have waded through years of company rhetoric to win their battle."