Wal­mart look­ing at town-cen­ter fea­tures

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS - By Ben­jamin Ro­mano

Big-box re­tail gi­ant Wal­mart, long de­spised by Main Street small busi­nesses for lur­ing their cus­tomers to the su­per­store on the edge of town, is now at­tempt­ing to bring town­cen­ter ameni­ties to its sprawl­ing park­ing lots in two Wash­ing­ton state lo­ca­tions and else­where.

On a web­site devoted to its “Town Cen­ter” re­tail con­cept, Wal­mart lists four projects un­der­way, in­clud­ing at stores in the Wash­ing­ton cities of Shel­ton and Tumwa­ter. The oth­ers are in Texas and Colorado.

Wal­mart real es­tate ex­ec­u­tive L.B. Johnson un­veiled the con­cept at a shop­ping cen­ter in­dus­try con­fer­ence in Oc­to­ber. “We want to pro­vide com­mu­nity space — ar­eas for the com­mu­nity to dwell,” he said. “We want to pro­vide pedes­trian con­nec­tiv­ity from our box to the ex­pe­ri­en­tial zones that are planned on our foot­print.”

Com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials in Shel­ton and Tumwa­ter said the com­pany has had pre­lim­i­nary meet­ings with city plan­ners but has not yet taken steps to ob­tain per­mits to re­de­velop the ex­pan­sive park­ing lots sur­round­ing its stores. The re­tailer, based in Ben­tonville, Ark., did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

On its web­site, Wal­mart de­picts a mix of ameni­ties it may add around its stores, in­clud­ing din­ing, fit­ness and sports ac­tiv­i­ties (a golf driv­ing range and skate park are pic­tured), ser­vices, trans­porta­tion and cu­rated re­tail — things de­signed to make Wal­mart stores into “des­ti­na­tions.”

That’s a big trend for phys­i­cal re­tail­ers look­ing to give peo­ple a rea­son to ac­tu­ally get out and go some­where to shop in an era of con­ve­nient on­line shop­ping and home de­liv­ery. Wal­mart has sig­nif­i­cantly ramped up its on­line shop­ping op­tions to com­pete with ri­val Ama­zon.

Whether Wal­mart will make good on the Town Cen­ter idea in Wash­ing­ton re­mains to be seen.

Its Shel­ton store is on the edge of the burg, far from the ac­tual town cen­ter. Com­pany representatives met with city staff in late Fe­bru­ary to dis­cuss a con­cept sim­i­lar to what’s de­picted on its web­site — a small park­like area next to a drive-through restau­rant at the edge of the park­ing lot — but Wal­mart has not sub­mit­ted a for­mal ap­pli­ca­tion, said Shel­ton com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor Mark Ziegler.

In Tumwa­ter, Wal­mart dis­cussed with city of­fi­cials a small re­tail pad and dog park. The com­pany sub­mit­ted a fea­si­bil­ity ap­pli­ca­tion, but it hasn’t pro­gressed be­yond a pre­lim­i­nary stage, said Michael Mat­lock, the com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor in Tumwa­ter.

Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Wal­mart has four town­cen­ter projects go­ing.

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