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Council right to be cautious about proposed Walmart

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 1, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
September 1, 2011 5:15 pm

Wal-Mart has announced plans to build its largest store – a Super Center – on the Tacoma Elks Lodge's Allenmore property. (The Associated Press)

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Surprise, Tacoma. It’s a Walmart.

In some communities, news that the giant retailer was coming to town with hundreds of jobs and sales tax revenue might be greeted with cheers. Some communities aren’t pro-union Tacoma – where the reaction so far seems to range from “No” to “Hell, no.”

That attitude might explain why developer Jeffrey Oliphant of JLO Washington Enterprises – who has had a purchase and sale agreement for the 18-acre Tacoma Elks site since February 2010 – kept under wraps his plan to build a 150,000-square-foot Walmart Super Center on the Central Tacoma site. It would be sandwiched between the Allenmore medical complex and an existing shopping center that includes Target, Top Foods, Office Depot and PetSmart.

A land-use application for a Walmart store was submitted to the city Wednesday, a day after the City Council placed a six-month moratorium on accepting new applications for “retail establishments that exceed 65,000 square feet.” Word seems to have leaked out that a big-box store was in the works, and the council decided that the city needed to step back and consider whether such a project was a good idea for the site.

The council is right to take that time. While the Elks certainly have a right to sell their property, the city has an interest in ensuring that such a large piece of land is developed in a way that fits in with the neighborhood and won’t overwhelm existing traffic infrastructure. An enormous Walmart likely would add a crushing amount of traffic to Union Avenue and nearby feeder arterials such as South 19th and Center streets.

The developer’s vision for the site has evolved. An environmental review – conducted as part of the general development process prior to finalizing sale of the property – was for a “conceptual plan that included a lot of square footage of medical office and retail,” said Ryan Petty, the city’s economic development director.

The original “Allenmore Mixed-Use” project included a hospital; medical, dental and research offices, a pharmacy warehouse, general office space and retail. At some point the major medical part of the plan went away, leaving only the retail part and smaller medical mixed-use. MultiCare had been a potential client, but has since decided against expanding.

Enter Walmart – and what’s almost guaranteed to whip up a whirlwind of controversy in Tacoma.

With its proximity to the Allenmore medical complex, the Elks site seems tailor-made for a combination of health-related businesses and, perhaps, high-density residential units geared to senior citizens. They’d be able to walk to medical offices, a bank, a hospital and the nearby shopping center.

While the jobs and tax revenue a Walmart would bring in would, indeed, be welcomed by many, a Super Center doesn’t seem like the highest and best use for such a prime site. The City Council is right to proceed with caution.

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