WARREN — Wal-Mart is back at the corner of Van Dyke and 12 Mile Road with more space, more products and a slate of special events lined up for its grand opening festivities.
Of course, Warren officials are just glad it’s back.
The store, on the western end of what, for decades, has been known as the Tech Plaza shopping center, was scheduled to open its doors to the public at 7:30 a.m. March 5. The grand opening marks the end of a six-year hiatus for Wal-Mart, which shuttered its former store at the plaza in 2008 when it opened a new one just up the street at Van Dyke and 14 Mile Road in Sterling Heights.
“In my 17 years of retail, this is probably one of the most aggressive offerings for our customers, and we’re excited to be able to do that,” said store manager Ken Brewer, hinting at, but not fully divulging, the array of special deals expected to greet Wal-Mart shoppers at the grand opening. “It’s well worth coming in on that first day.”
But Brewer said the special events wouldn’t stop on day one. Store managers planned to switch the focus to wellness and physical fitness on March 8, with free health screenings and nutritional meal suggestions.
Wal-Mart began accepting applications for employment at the new 12 Mile and Van Dyke store in November. Brewer said 4,000 people applied for jobs and that his management team conducted 3,000 interviews. A total of 300 new associates were hired.
“They’re already here and they’re already working,” Brewer said, walking through the store’s aisles just days before the grand opening, as employees were busy stocking shelves and unloading new merchandise. During an afternoon tour, more new Wal-Mart associates were seen coming and going with employee handbooks, as contractors worked inside and out to finish jobs ahead of the store’s official christening.
One work crew in the parking lot was busy using lifts to remove the weathered “Tech Plaza” sign at the west entrance from Van Dyke.
Back inside, Brewer said a pool of applicants that included local military veterans aided the company’s hiring process and its logistical preparations for opening the new store. Wal-Mart has announced a commitment to hiring honorably discharged veterans within their first 12 months of leaving active duty.
Craig Weaver, 27, of Warren, a merchandise supervisor, said he grew up in Center Line and went to work for Wal-Mart in 2009 after he finished his service in the Marines. A former class president, he said he worked previously at the company’s store in Rochester Hills but jumped at the chance to move to the Warren store, where he was promoted.
“When I was given this opportunity, I couldn’t pass it up,” Weaver said.
He added that he’s also looking forward to being a part of the influx of new retail life at Tech Plaza.
“You’re going to see lights coming on in these other buildings,” Weaver said. “It’s already happening.”
Anthony D’Angelo, 26, of Clinton Township, finished six years of service in the Marines in November and was hired by Wal-Mart in January. He’ll help open the store as a backroom zone supervisor.
Brewer said D’Angelo was promoted twice after he was hired because of his work ethic, leadership skills and ability to learn quickly.
“To me, the store is a celebration of opportunity for our associates, for job creation, for hope in the community,” Brewer said. “That was really apparent in the interest, in the number of applications.”
He said new additions at the Warren Wal-Mart include a full grocery section with fresh produce, a commercial kitchen offering prepared foods and about twice the product selection of the previous store. He said the store is outfitted with motion-detecting LED lighting, making it more environmentally responsible.
The Wal-Mart at 12 Mile and Van Dyke will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, also offering a full range of general merchandise and pharmacy services.
The festivities on March 5 will include deals, product samplings and special appearances by former Detroit Piston forward Greg Kelser and several former NFL players. Tight end Kellen Winslow Sr., an NFL Hall of Fame member who played for the San Diego Chargers; place kicker Doug Pelfrey, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals; and former Detroit Lions cornerback Ryan McNeil are scheduled to attend.
Wal-Mart announced plans to redevelop the site in September 2012 during a press conference at Warren’s City Hall. A spokesman at the time said Wal-Mart would have preferred to purchase the plaza, where they had held a lease on the far west side.
Wal-Mart eventually purchased the property, but the terms of the real estate transaction were not disclosed.
“It’s a tremendous investment on behalf of our customers,” Wal-Mart Director of Communications Anne Hatfield said.
A spokesman previously indicated that the company made the decision to shutter the Warren store when it opened the new one in Sterling Heights because the 128,000-square-foot Tech Plaza location was not large enough to suit the company’s needs. Plans for the new 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store involved a $20-million investment in Warren.
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts had publicly pressured the company over its leased space at Tech Plaza, calling the empty building an “eyesore” and threatening to initiate nuisance abatement proceedings. Fouts even threatened to call for a “nationwide boycott” if Wal-Mart failed to come to the table to resolve the vacancy.
Tech Plaza opened in the 1960s. According to city records, the entire parcel spans 28.21 acres — 1.2 million square feet of land — near the city’s Civic Center and included 291,505 square feet of building space in 2012.
The plaza’s other retail spaces sat largely vacant after Wal-Mart’s departure in 2008. Only a handful of stores remained, fronted by a sea of empty parking in the shadow of the sprawling General Motors Technical Center campus. Other big-name retailers to close shop at Tech Plaza previously included Sears Hardware and Office Depot.