Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Wal-Mart says it has no 'announced' plans for Parkade

By Kimberly Phillips
Journal Inquirer
September 22, 2006

MANCHESTER - While speculation insists that the vacant part of the Parkade will become a Wal-Mart once a sales deal is final, the Arkansas-based company says it has no such plans.

"We don't," Chris Buchanan, senior manager of public affairs, said last week. "In terms of any plans for Manchester, we don't have any publicly announced plans."

Yet, the square footage of the general merchandise store that's been mentioned to town officials mirrors Wal-Mart's own specifications and that of other regional and national stores it has plans to open.

Town officials have said developers told them this summer a 160,000-square-foot "big box" style store would open on the Broad Street parcel offering general merchandise, grocery, and lawn and garden departments.

According to Wal-Mart's Web site, its supercenters are on average 185,000 square feet with approximately 142,000 sale items in various departments, including those that town officials noted.

Here in Connecticut, four supercenters operate - North Windham, some 18 miles from Manchester; Wallingford, 25 miles away; Lisbon, 31 miles away; and Waterford, 34 miles away. Only one other supercenter operates within 50 miles of Manchester in Ware, Mass., which is 35 miles away, according to the Web site.

Wal-Mart has 28 discount stores in Connecticut, it's Web site says, and nationally they're an average of 101,000 square feet with 120,000 sale items.

The company operates such a store at 420 Buckland Hills Drive that's 123,520 square feet, larger than the national average, town assessment records indicate. This square footage includes a canopy garden center of 2,296 square feet and an open entrance of 380 square feet.

In recent years, Wal-Mart has tried unsuccessfully to locate a supercenter in nearby communities, namely Vernon and Stafford.

Vernon's Inland Wetlands Commission quashed Wal-Mart's plans in 2004 after three months of meetings to reach a decision that pleased many residents, some of whom belonged to Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development. That group represented about 100 families upset that a supercenter was planned for their community.

Wal-Mart had planned to build an 186,000-square-foot store with 859 parking spaces on 41.7 acres off Route 31, behind a Burger King restaurant.

Plans in Stafford were more fluid, as Wal-Mart became the commonly known tenant for a parcel at the intersection of West Stafford and Monson roads, opposite a Dunkin' Donuts.

The company never filed a formal application, but town officials said developers told them the company planned to build a 150,000-square-foot supercenter.

About the time a moratorium was set to expire this year suspending applications on developments exceeding 30,000 square feet, Stafford's Planning and Zoning Commission passed a zoning amendment that limits businesses to 40,000 square feet.

While it may seem that Wal-Mart is a logical pick for the Parkade's new tenant, residents also have suggested the possibility of a Costco membership warehouse store locating there.

"Our corporate policy is to not comment on specific markets because of the competitive nature of our business," Costco Chairman and co-founder Jeff Brotman said in a statement.

Nevertheless, the construction of a BJ's Wholesale Club in the former Heartland plaza at the corner of Tolland Turnpike and Adams Street could make competition of club stores more possible. Wal-Mart operates a Sam's Club, another such store, at 69 Pavilions Drive, one of three in the state.

Costco stores within 50 miles of Manchester are located in Enfield, 16 miles away; West Springfield, 26 miles away; Waterbury, 28 miles away; and Milford, 44 miles away, according to the Costco Web site.

Town staff has said there is a signed purchase agreement between the Parkade's owner and a new developer; however, plans for the new plaza aren't expected until early next year. The sale is expected to include only about 18 acres of the 19.2-acre parcel.

Whatever development comes in the future, residents will decide during a November referendum whether they want the town to spend $8.75 million to purchase the parcel. This amount, which will be bonded, does not include funds to develop the property after it's purchased.

The group of residents that petitioned for the referendum has suggested locating an adult aquatics facility, auditorium, and library there.

Members of the Republican Town Committee unanimously agreed last week to oppose the referendum this fall.

©Journal Inquirer 2006