April 19, 2017

Wal-Mart drops plans to construct ‘supercenter’ in Manchester

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has shelved plans to build a 152,430-square-foot "supercenter" on Spencer Street in Manchester, town officials said this week.

Director of Planning Gary Anderson said the retailer notified the town last week that it is no longer planning to build a new facility at 205 Spencer St., which the company had said would have employed about 300 workers.

Wal-Mart is working with a local real-estate agent to sell the property, he said.

The multinational retailer purchased space on Spencer Street from Gateway Lauren Inc. for $9.8 million in November 2015, according to the assessor's office.

The decision corresponds with Wal-Mart's nationwide plan to spur online sales, according to Anderson.

"This is a reflection of a national decision, not regional," the planner said.

Wal-Mart's withdrawal is disappointing, Anderson said, adding that the town was looking forward to new jobs and economic growth the supercenter would have brought to Manchester.

Still, he said the town is moving forward working with real-estate agents to find another occupant.

"We are hopeful that, over time, we can attract a developer that is even better than what was proposed recently," Anderson said.

The nixed plan comes months after Wal-Mart officials in October assured the Journal Inquirer the approved Spencer Street site would not fall victim the retailer's plan to open fewer stores and grow online sales.

The Spencer Street facility, which originally had been scheduled to open in 2014, would have been Wal-Mart's second supercenter in Manchester. Wal-Mart's existing store is at 420 Buckland Hills Drive.

In September, Wal-Mart agreed to buy out Jet.com for $3 billion to increase internet-based purchasing.

Phillip Keene, Wal-Mart's director of cooperate communications, wrote in a statement a long review had culminated with the "difficult decision not to move forward" with the Spencer Street project.

"We look forward to continuing to serve our local customers at our Buckland Hills Drive store and online at walmart.com," Keene wrote.

In January 2013, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 to approve Wal-Mart's Spencer Street outlet despite concerns the supercenter would affect traffic. The retailer needed the commission's approval because the proposed site had 1,000 parking spaces and exceeds 4 acres.

The new facility would have been 37,000 square feet larger than the Kmart store that formerly occupied that site. It was demolished in 2012.

Wal-Mart first filed an application to redevelop the former Kmart store in August 2012.

During several public hearings in 2012, residents questioned how the retailer would limit business for competitors in town.

Wal-Mart received approval on the condition it would add LED lighting to the parking lot and trees near Pep Boys, and better align the plaza's entrance with an adjacent plaza housing ShopRite.

Soon after the approval, the owner of ShopRite — located across the street from the Wal-Mart site — filed a lawsuit claiming the proposal increased safety issues, congestion, and access to its driveway.

In January 2015, a judge in Manchester Superior Court dismissed the appeal after determining that the commission had followed state statutes and that Wal-Mart had addressed traffic concerns.

The retailer operates over 35 Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Clubs in Connecticut and remodeled five of those stores in 2016, Keene wrote.

Wal-Mart plans to remodel at least five of its Connecticut stores over the next year, he wrote, in addition to opening the state's first associate training academy in Wallingford.

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