City planning director feels Walmart serious about doing project at Service & Mitchell roads
BY JEFF BENZIGER
Ceres city officials remain hopeful that Walmart still intends to build the Supercenter project with its Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center despite the fact that building permits were issued in January and the site remains dormant.
There has been speculation that Walmart has dropped the Ceres project after 11 years of planning and fights in the courts. But Tom Westbrook, director of Community Development for the city of Ceres, says there’s evidence that the company is moving forward.
“They have engaged their engineers and their attorneys again to kind of get us rolling, in terms of getting improvement plans done, getting the final map adopted by the council, getting the subdivision improvement agreements adopted,” said Westbrook. “Those had all been worked on and then once we got to the issuance of the building permit, they’re like, ‘Well, the building permits’ valid for a two-year period so we don’t necessarily need to be proceed with these other items yet because we’re not ready to build. So now they’ve come back and said, ‘Okay, now we want to proceed with the remaining items.’ That just gives me the sense that this project is going to build.”
Walmart could ask for an extension if the building permits aren’t used before they are set to expire in January 2021.
Westbrook is able to measure the length of the project planning process by his daughter.
“My daughter will be 13 in April and she was born the week the application was filed,” said Westbrook. “It’s been a long time. There’s a lot of people who have a lot (of time) invested into it and I’m certainly one of them. I can’t wait for the groundbreaking to commence and I’m hoping that is within the beginning of next year sometime.”
In March 2018 the Walmart Corporation submitted building plans and filed an application for a building permit for construction of the new Walmart Supercenter.
First proposed in 2007 by Regency, the Mitchell Ranch project with its anchor tenant of a Walmart Supercenter has been held up for over a decade by a front group designed to block or delay new stores from developing in boilerplate fashion. It’s a story that has repeated itself numerous times in multiple communities in California.
A similar waiting game is being played out in Porterville where a proposed Supercenter has been finally cleared for development after a decade and a half of legal protests over the project’s environmental studies – the same tactics used in Ceres. The Porterville Recorder published a story in July noting that: “Because talk about the Walmart Supercenter being built has been circulating in the community for years, this announcement has some Porterville residents wondering if it is actually going to happen this time around.”
The Porterville store was first proposed in 2004.
There are indications that Walmart may be reconsidering its building plan for new stores. According to Yahoo! Finance, earlier this year Walmart had more than 3,500 supercenters in the nation. Walmart opened only 15 Supercenters in 2018 and only 10 nationwide this year.
Last year Business Insider was calling Walmart’s shift from opening more supercenters to beefing up an online presence an inevitable shift in their business model – one that was needed to stay relevant in changing consumer demands and the shift to e-commerce.
In April, Walmart announced plans to build new stores in California and Florida and remodel a total of 157 stores in those states plus Texas, Arizona, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The projects include the retailer’s discount store, Supercenter and Neighborhood Market formats.
California is home to 303 Walmart stores. On Aug. 7 the chain opened its newest Supercenter store in California in Tehachapi.
Despite announcing in June that it was closing 17 stores in the United States and Canada – including one in San Jose – Walmart said it is investing $145 million in California this year. That includes the remodeling of 21 stores, the launch of grocery delivery at 68 stores and addition of grocery pickup at 69 stores.
Only the Supercenter itself is currently proposed for construction within the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center in Ceres. Once construction starts – maybe the qualifier is if – the 185,682-square-foot Supercenter would precede plans for 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a stand-alone retail building and two to three new restaurants.