About three years ago it was announced to some fanfare that a new Wal-Mart Supercenter was to be built on East Independence Boulevard, replacing the store on Eastway Drive.
Around that time a Wal-Mart associate told me company management had even announced to employees that the much smaller Eastway store would close within months and that employees would be offered jobs at the new supercenter store.
That a larger store was planned was welcome news to a lot of east side residents who found it a hassle to drive way out to the Sardis Road or Wilkinson Boulevard supercenters to buy low-priced groceries that aren't available at the Eastway store.
Wal-Mart planned to build the new store where Amity Gardens Shopping Center now sits – on Independence at Pierson Drive. Plans called for tearing down Amity Gardens.
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The goal, company officials said, was to open the new store sometime in 2007. Well, we're more than halfway through 2008 and east Charlotte residents are still waiting.
Two local commercial real estate firms – The Providence Group of the Carolinas and Faison and Associates – teamed up with Wal-Mart to develop the 14-acre site. Malcolm McClean, of the Providence Group, blamed delays on “environmental issues.”
According to Executive Building Co. LLC, current owners of the property, those environmental issues have to do with chemical spills left behind by a dry cleaning business that once occupied the property.
“We are addressing those issues and everyone is committed to moving forward,” McClean said, although he wouldn't give a timetable for when construction would begin.
Wal-Mart seems a bit hesitant. A company official said that a final decision hinges on what happens with the chemicals.
“We're exploring our options and doing our due diligence,” said Tara Stewart, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart.
The Providence Group is brokering the deal to have the property sold to Faison & Associates. They identified the location as “a good development opportunity,” according to McClean, despite the fact that the area is currently an economic eyesore.
Boarded-up buildings and abandoned lots line each side of east Independence Boulevard in the once-thriving area where the supercenter would go up. Road construction is to blame for that. The erection of a concrete median in the center of Independence stretching from uptown to Sharon Amity road helped kill scores of business by making it impossible to get from one side of Independence to the next.
More road construction is planned, which means more businesses will close as the N.C. Department of Transportation moves forward with turning Independence into a freeway.
What might help stimulate the economy and simply enhance the overall look of the area is for a Wal-Mart as well as perhaps a Home Depot or Lowe's to be built – and soon. These types of retail stores, while arguably widespread, are popular among renters, homeowners and families with tight budgets.
Of course, anytime there's talk of building a Wal-Mart, emotions are stoked because of the retail giant's threat to small businesses and woeful pay and benefits policy. But there's no denying that whenever one is built it generates economic buzz. And as far as east Independence is concerned, such a buzz is better than the sight of abandoned stores.