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Mayor: Walmart opts out of Neighborhood Market grocery store in Dardenne Prairie

Walmart neighborhood marketWalmart made “a business decision” not to proceed with building a new Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery store in Dardenne Prairie, according to a statement from the company on July 20.

Dardenne Prairie officials and the owner of the property, the Cora Bopp Limited Partnership, were informed on July 19 that Walmart would not build the 46,000-square-foot grocery store and gas station on a portion of a 15.79-acre property north of Feise Road near its intersection with Bryan Road.

Zucker said the Walmart officials who called him said they ran the numbers based on the extra cost of construction they weren’t going to realize as high a profit. “The only explanation from them was that on reflection, it was too expensive,” Zucker said in an interview. “They didn’t think they get the return on their investment, which is really baffling to me.”

The statement released by Walmart does not go into specifics. “As we evaluate opportunities to better serve our Missouri customers, we have made a business decision to no longer pursue the proposed project in Dardenne Prairie,” according to the statement.

“We appreciate the support of Mayor Zucker and the Board of Aldermen as we’ve worked through the conceptualization and potential development of this project.  We look forward to continuing to serve our local customers at nearby stores in O’Fallon, Lake Saint Louis, and St. Peters.”

Based on the city’s own economic market assessment in January, Zucker said there was enough business within a five-mile radius of the site to support three full-sized grocery stores.

“So one in that location would do a land-office business,” he said.

Another issue for the city is the loss of sale tax revenue for the project. The Neighborhood Market and gas station were expected to generate as much as $300,000 annually, based on the marketing firm’s findings.  The city has limited commercial and in the next decade the city will need more revenue for upkeep of streets and other city facilities and avoid property tax increases, Zucker said.

The decision comes after months of review and discussion of development of the property and the market. Walmart announced plans for the grocery store and gas station in March. The Neighborhood Market stores are about one-fourth of the size of a regular Walmart Supercenter and smaller than competing supermarkets. The Dardenne Prairie Neighborhood Market would have been the third recently opened in St. Charles County.

The news also comes on the eve of final decision on a conditional use permit and site plan for the development that were expected to go before the city’s Board of Aldermen at their July 20 meeting. The city’s planning and zoning commission has recommended approval of the permit and site plan on July 13.

Aldermen already approved a planned unit development [PUD] request on the tract on July 6, which was submitted by the Cora Bopp Limited Partnership. The partnership owns 86.5 acres in the area, known as the Bopp property, with the 15.79 acres the first portion to be developed.

“They showed up last Wednesday [July 13] with their development engineering, firm, their architect, their real estate attorney, a PR person from Walmart, and I think the project manager from Walmart if I’m not mistaken,” Zucker said. “They fielded the whole team.”

Zucker said there was no major public opposition, the planning and zoning commission recommended the site plan and conditional use permit to the board, and the aldermen were expected to approve them.  “I told them [Walmart] it was a clean shot,” he said.

“So all the work on this plan for the last six months has gone for naught,” Zucker said.

Gary Feder, an attorney representing the partnership, said there seemed to be no inkling that Walmart was backing away from the project.  He said he couldn’t really comment much on Walmart’s decision.

“If, in fact, the Walmart deal is not going to go forward, it’s a great piece of property and we certainly have every intent to develop it,” Feder said.  “The city wants to see it developed. We will just be proceeding and I’m sure we will be successful in developing as we go forward.”

Feder said the partnership retains the ownership of the property where the store would have been located. The sale of the property was based on Walmart moving forward and approvals by the city.

The PUD approved by the city allows the partnership to subdivide the 15.79 acres into five lots. The five lots include a 50,000-square-foot grocery store, 24,000 square feet of retail space, 26,000 square feet of bank or retail space, 3,000 square feet for a fast-food restaurant and a 740-square-foot gas station. Two of the lots were to be acquired by Walmart for the grocery store and gas station.

The city had insisted on changes to the look of the store, which were presented to the planning and zoning commission.  Zucker and aldermen objected to what Zucker called the “industrial warehouse look” of the original drawings of the store submitted by Walmart.

The development of the tract has been controversial going back to the administration of former Dardenne Prairie Mayor Pam Fogarty. Some residents object to the development saying there are enough retail stores in the city. More stores would add more traffic and the city has enough sales and property tax revenue to support its services and streets, they said.

In a message on the city’s website, Zucker said other grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Lucky’s Market have told the city they aren’t interested in locating in the city.

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