development
12:37 pm
Mon October 25, 2010

Once Controversial Wal-Mart Opens Wednesday in North Austin

A proposed Wal-Mart that was fiercely opposed by neighborhood groups in North Austin will open on Wednesday.  But the store has been sharply scaled down from the original 225,000 square foot plan.

The original plans also called for the construction of a 300,000 square foot parking garage, and would have seen the store operate 24/7.

Wal-Mart announced in 2008 that it was scaling back its plans for Northcross Mall. The Arkansas-based retail giant said it was partly due to souring economic conditions, but was also in response to neighborhood concerns about parking, traffic, and competition with local business.

The Wal-Mart opening Wednesday in the Northcross shopping center will be about 98,000 square feet. Instead of being a "Wal-Mart Supercenter", as originally planned, the store will be a "Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market." Wal-Mart launched the "Neighborhood Market" brand in the late-90s as a counter offering to large superstore-type locations. They feature easier access, faster parking, and a more traditional shopping experience. The new location will not operate 24/7, but will instead match the hours of the neighboring HEB, opening early in the morning and closing before midnight.

"I'll take it either way," said Jason Meeker with Responsible Growth for Northcross. "Now the store is of a size that sends a signal. It will be something that fits better into the neighborhood and won't be so overwhelming," Meeker told KUT News.

Meeker was involved with numerous efforts over the past few years to prevent Wal-Mart from opening a megastore in the neighborhood. He helped organize people from Allandale, Brentwood, Crestview, North Shoal Creek, Rosedale, and Wooten neighborhoods. The struggle was featured in an NPR program called State of the Re-Union.

Update 1:34 pm: Local transportation blogger Mike Dahmus responds by saying we are being insufficiently critical of Responsible Growth for Northcross. He didn't have time for a phone call, but pointed us to this blog post from 2007 in which he accuses RG4N of perpetuating untruths about the Wal-Mart issue.

Update 4:57 pm: Local development blogger Chris Bradford, another active voice in the issue when it was on the front burner in city politics, says he still has a bad taste in his mouth over the whole issue.

“What I cared so much about was the neighborhood groups’ willingness to bully the city into revoking a valid permit. That always bothered me,” Bradford told KUT News.

Meeker responds: “These kinds of fights will continue to happen all over the city unless there are changes in the way that we have our land code structured,” Meeker told us. “If they wanted to fight for the Wal-Mart against us, they could have stood up and formed their own organization to counter RG4N. They didn’t. All they did was blog about it,” Meeker said.