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Wednesday, 31 January 2007 00:00

Franklin declines to help shopping center owner keep Wal-Mart

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Franklin town officials have turned down a request made by the owners of the Wal-Mart plaza in Franklin to help encourage expansion in the store’s current location along the U.S. 441 bypass rather than move forward with company plans to build a new Supercenter.

 

Construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter will leave 93,000 square feet of empty space to fill when the existing location closes its doors. There is potential for more empty store fronts as other tenants in the shopping center will be freed from their lease contracts when Wal-Mart moves, said Mark Addy, chief operating officer of Phillips Edison and Company, which owns the plaza.

“No doubt it’s going to have a very negative impact on the rest of the center,” Addy said.

The property management company obviously has its own business interests in mind. According to the lease agreements with existing tenants, each of them will be able to pay approximately 25 percent less in rent if the anchor store — Wal-Mart, in this case — leaves. Some tenants will likely be looking to see if the new Wal-Mart sports additional retail space for them to move to. The additional moves would mean more empty stores in the existing plaza and further revenue reductions for Phillips Edison and Company, which has owned the plaza for only a year.

But as the plaza turns over, it will be the community that is stuck looking at the empty big box.

Franklin Mayor Joe Collins has said that there is little the town can do — Wal-Mart has complied with town zoning requirements and made a business decision to move out and move on. The new Wal-Mart is to be located near the new Macon County library and Southwestern Community College sites.

Moreover, the town gave away its only bargaining chip in December when board members voted 4 to 2 to provide water and sewer to the store’s new location.

Aldermen voting for the measure — Billy Mashburn, who made the motion for approval, Jerry Evans, who seconded the motion, Verlin Curtis and Charles Roper — cited a desire not to impede development.

“Withholding it could only have caused a little dissension,” said Curtis at the time. “We don’t have any ordinances in place to compel them to build to any sort of standards. It seems like an injustice to hold them to standards that we don’t have.”

However, town board members put some standards in place earlier this month when they adopted the Principles of Growth — 10 concepts developed with local input that establish how the town and its residents will work to preserve their community while accommodating growth. While not binding ordinances, the Principles are intended to guide the town’s future land-use decisions.

The Principles address mixed land uses, compact building design, creating a range of housing opportunities and choices, creating walkable neighborhoods, fostering distinctive and attractive communities with a strong sense of place, preserving open space, directing development toward existing communities, providing a variety of transportation choices, making development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective, and encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration.

Principles such as compact building design, fostering a strong sense of place, preserving open space, and directing development toward existing communities all would apply to the Wal-Mart situation at hand. Alderman Bob Scott has criticized the plans for the new Wal-Mart Supercenter as posing an economic and environmental threat, as the store most likely will make it harder for existing local businesses and will cause additional problems such as increased traffic and stormwater runoff.

If town board members had waited to make their decision about water and sewer allocation until after the Principles were adopted, then perhaps there would have been more support for holding out on providing water and sewer until the town saw what it would get in return. As it was, board members spent little time deliberating the issue, voting to provide water and sewer immediately upon being asked. Although rumors of a new Wal-Mart had circulated for years, the town board meeting in December was the first time a representative from the company appeared before town board members with a request to hook on to the town’s water and sewer system.

Board members Carolyn “Sissy” Pattillo and Bob Scott — the two dissenting voters — said that the town should have at least waited long enough to see the company’s plans before handing over such a valuable resource.

“My vote was not against Wal-Mart,” Scott said following the vote. “My vote was ‘Hey, we’ve only known about this for a few hours.’”

Assuming that the new Supercenter will move forward as planned, Addy of Phillips Edison and Company said that the next move is to begin looking for tenants to fill the soon to be vacant space. Finding a tenant to fill 93,000 square feet of retail space will be hard, Addy said. Most likely the space will be cut up into smaller stores.

Similarly, the old Winn-Dixie in the Waynesville Plaza was partially filled by a discount clothing retailer. The rest of the grocery store remains empty.

Addy said that in other plazas Phillips Edison and Company owns, such vacancies have been filled by tractor supply stores, Peebles department stores, or sporting goods stores. There are no plans to abandon the plaza, Addy said.

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