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 , 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 workman 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 and dissent from residents.
- 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.