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September 19, 2012

Welcome back, Wal-Mart

Retailer hopes to purchase plaza it vacated in 2008, open bigger store

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — Wal-Mart is eyeing a return to Warren.

At a press conference hosted by Mayor Jim Fouts at Warren’s City Hall on Sept. 12, a spokesman for the retail giant confirmed plans to redevelop the company’s former location at the Tech Plaza shopping center, at 12 Mile and Van Dyke.

Erik Hingst, senior manager for public affairs and government relations for Wal-Mart stores in Michigan and Ohio, said this time the company would prefer to purchase the plaza at 12 Mile and Van Dyke, where they still lease property on the far west side.

Hingst said the company made a decision to shutter the Warren store when it opened a new store at 14 Mile and Van Dyke in Sterling Heights in 2008, because the 128,000-square-foot Tech Plaza location was not large enough to suit the company’s needs.

The redeveloped store, however, would add about 50,000 square feet of space, enabling Wal-Mart to offer a full line of groceries, a bakery and delicatessen, meat, dairy and produce, and a pharmacy, as well as the general merchandise the company typically sells.

The 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter would bring a $20 million investment to Warren and about 300 jobs to the Tech Plaza shopping center, where Fouts had been pressing for development since his 2011 State of the City remarks.

Fouts had called the vacant space in the heart of the city an “eyesore” and even threatened to call for a “nationwide boycott” if Wal-Mart failed to come to the table over to resolve the vacancy by foregoing its lease from owner West Penn Realty through its agent, J.J. Gumburg Co.

Hingst said the company was aware of the mayor’s interest in seeing the property developed, either by Wal-Mart or by another business at that high-profile location.

“I do believe that the mayor’s passion for that particular location got our attention,” Hingst told assembled members of the media on Sept. 12.

Fouts called news of the development a win for the city and a sign that things are turning around with respect to the economy in Warren.

“After I became mayor in 2007, I made it a priority to find a suitable tenant for the Tech Plaza property,” Fouts said. “At one time, Tech Plaza was the biggest shopping center in the area.

“I think we can truly say that not only is Warren back, but Wal-Mart is back. I hope this will be the first of many major expansions in Warren,” Fouts said.

Hingst said no agreement had been reached on the purchase of the property, but barring any catastrophic breakdown in the process, the company fully intended to purchase the plaza and to redevelop the store. Wal-Mart hopes to open the new store in 2014.

Decisions about leasing and ownership of areas of the plaza not occupied by the new Wal-Mart store would be made at a later date at the corporate level, Hingst said.

Fouts said he was optimistic that the entire plaza would eventually be occupied.

Officials said Warren offered no tax incentives to lure Wal-Mart back to 12 Mile and Van Dyke.

A site plan for Wal-Mart’s proposed redevelopment of the Tech Plaza site was set to go before the Warren Planning Commission at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.