When opening day comes on Oct. 26, Burnsville officials are expecting a warm welcome for Wal-Mart, which successfully pushed through a proposal in May of 2011, at long last.
Wal-Mart's arrival is more than 20 years overdue. The mammoth retailer beat a longstanding retreat after what Mayor Elizabeth Kautz calls "the huge brouhaha" that erupted during its first bid for Burnsville in the 1980s. At the time, the mammoth retailer hoped to plant a discount store on a quadrangle of land off of Crystal Lake Road West and Burnhaven Drive, a spot that is the present site of the Gramercy Club at Greenhaven. Residents in the nearby neighborhoods revolted after Wal-Mart asked for a zone change, from residential to commercial, arguing that the megastore would bring an unwelcome influx of traffic and noise.
Not so this time around. In 2011, when Wal-Mart put in its first proposal since the Reagan years, the measure sailed through the planning commission and onto the city council with little dissent or even discussion. The spot perched at the intersection of Cliff Road and Interstate 35W has been under construction for the last 16 months as workmen convert the site from a concrete operation into a 155,000 square foot Walmart Supercenter.
According to those at city hall, the mood among constituents is one of delight rather than dismay.
"Residents are just excited," Kautz said Tuesday night. "I was just at a senior living complex and that was the first thing they asked about—when the new Walmart would be here."
Kautz added that the nation's economic misfortunes could account for Burnsville's change of heart. In all, the Walmart store will bring a healthy infusion of jobs, over 300 according to a recent article in the Pioneer Press, though some have criticized the company's pay rates.
Burnsville's supercenter may be just one of many on the horizon. At present, the company operates 20 Walmart stores in the seven-county metro area, but Wal-Mart is actively seeking new real estate. The Arkansas-based company is in the midst of turf war with Minnesota-made competitor, Target, according to Tricia Pitchford, senior director of brokerage services for Cushman & Wakefield/Northmarq, who spoke with the Star Tribune recently. Wal-Mart is in a good position to pick up prime real estate, even in the midst of a lingering recession. The corporation is flush with cash, thanks to budget-conscious consumers, and land prices continue to lag.
"They're being very opportunistic right now and aggressive in identifying sites," Pitchford said. "Wal-Mart had been pretty quiet in our market for several years, and they had stayed in the outlying areas. I think Wal-Mart really is stepping up and saying, 'we can get into the market.'"
However, Burnsvillites' benign reaction to the big box chain is a bit of an anomaly in the Twin Cities metro area, where Wal-Mart has frequently encountered fierce resistance from residents as it aggressively expands into the region. From Blaine to Apple Valley, the company has seen pushback from angry taxpayers. Though in most cases Wal-Mart wins, citizen groups have succeeded in deflecting the company. In late 2011, the Chanhassen City Council voted down a proposal that called for a new Walmart Supercenter after facing pressure from a highly organized opposition group.
Nevertheless, Wal-Mart hopes to have at least five more in the works before the year is out.
- A new store is underway in Lakeville, in spite of union protests and dissent from residents.
- Roseville is a contender for a Walmart store. The company has inquired about a brownfield property off Cleveland Avenue and County Road C, though some residents have organized a new opposition group called SWARN—Solidarity of West Area Roseville Neighbors.
- The company recently announced plans to build a supercenter in Cottage Grove, on the site of one of the state's last drive-in movie theaters, the Cottage View Drive-In. A petition calling for preservation of the drive-in is currently circulating online.
- The city council in Andover recently gave Wal-Mart the OK to build on the site of a former sports bar. Residents came to the council with objections months before the plan had even been confirmed.
- The company has long had an interest in Plymouth, and has in fact bought a whole shopping center—the ailing Four Seasons Mall. The company bought the property two years ago, but backed off after residents rallied against it. The council put a moratorium on development at the site while the city studied the issue. The ban was lifted in November of 2011.
Original Article, posted May 18, 2011
It's final: A Walmart store is coming to the Gateway District. However, any change to nearby intersections is still up in the air, though city staff predicts a significant increase in traffic on roads surrounding the development.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will be building its Burnsville location on a tract of wooded land near the corner Cliff Road and River Ridge Boulevard. In the past, the property visible from Interstate 35 West was used for a cement transfer operation, but it has been vacant for several years, said Planner Chris Slania.
The 24-hour store will cover 155,000 square feet and include a grocery, clothing, home goods, pharmacy, tire center and outdoor gardening section. In the future, it is possible that the lot will include a fast-food drive-thru as well. It is estimated that the store will create 300 jobs, mostly part-time positions.
Once completed, the store will also draw a high-volume of traffic into what has been a relatively sleepy corner of Burnsville. It is anticipated that a total of 7,800 vehicles will go in and out of the lot each day, said Mike Spack, president for Traffic Data Inc. the firm that studied how the development will affect traffic patterns.
"We feel that more than 50 percent will be going through Cliff and River Ridge Intersection," Spack told the Planning Commission during their meeting last week.
However, as of now the city does not plan to install a traffic signal to accommodate the incoming cars and trucks, though officials acknowledged that the store would have a "significant" impact on the roads around the development.
The holdup is Dakota County, city officials told members of the Planning Commission. Technically, the road falls under the county's jurisdiction, so the city does not have authority to alter it without permission.
"We had numerous meetings with them to determine what their interest would be. They stated that they would not be agreeable to a traffic signal at that intersection until they saw the conditions once the store is open," said Jeremy Strehlo, a project engineer with the city. "Their reason for that is sometimes these stores do go in and the intersection still operates on an acceptable basis. They wanted to make sure that if they agree to put something in that it is necessary."
Instead, the city asked Wal-Mart to pay up to $7,500 for a traffic study to be conducted one year after the store's grand opening. The money will be put into an escrow account as soon as the city issues a building permit for the site. Any unused funds will be returned to Wal-Mart. If the study costs more than$7,500, Wal-Mart will not be on the hook for any addissional expenses.
However, if the city and county find that the intersection of Cliff Road and River Ridge needs a traffic signal, Wal-Mart will be asked to contribute up to $300,000 to install a light.
Though commissioners were generally supportive of the project, many voiced concerns about uncontrolled growth in traffic around the store.
"From a practical point of view that's not been an easy intersection. I've driven it millions of times when I've lived in Burnsville and it's hard to get out there and it's hard to turn, especially during high volume traffic times," said Commissioner DeeDee Currier. "I certainly hope our county commissioners may be listening so that they realize the importance of that intersection."
Commissioner Steve Manhart agreed, though he felt the project was a good one.
"I do feel that this is somewhat of a no-brainer, that we're going to see traffic conditions at Cliff and River Ridge and others rise," said Commissioner Steve Manhart. "But I understand you have to comply with their rules. With levels of service being shown in the traffic study in other locations of the city it could have been a lot worse, but in this location I think it's a good fit."
In spite of these objections, the commission passed Wal-Mart's plat unanimously. The city council followed suit this Tuesday with little further discussion.