Town core businesses have no apparent beef with Walmart

By Linda Bentley | June 10, 2009

We know from Zip Code analysis people from the area already shop at Walmart’
CAVE CREEK – On Thursday, local business owners were invited to participate in a meeting at the Buffalo Chip Saloon to address their questions and/or concerns about Walmart’s proposal to locate in Cave Creek just south of the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway.

Sean Lake & Usama AbujbarahRepresentatives from Walmart, including Attorney Sean Lake and Delia Garcia from public affairs, were on hand to answer questions while Town Manager Usama Abujbarah, Mayor Vincent Francia and Councilmen Jim Bruce and Ralph Mozilo came to listen to what business owners had to say.

Sonoran News agreed not to mention business owners’ names so they would feel free to voice their concerns.

One restaurant owner mentioned receiving a marketing survey phone call and asked who was sponsoring the survey, asked questions about how the “out-lot” was going to be developed, and said it was to clear up rumors floating around that it could be developed into a strip mall with fast food restaurants.

Garcia said Walmart was conducting the survey.

Lake provided a little background about the proposed Supercenter and said it will be a much smaller store, at 128,000 square feet, than, for example, the Anthem or Bell Road stores, which are approximately 215,000 square feet.

So, he said, “It is not the big giant format,” adding, “It will carry the same goods, only less of them.”

For example, Lake said the big stores might carry five brands of ketsup, while this store carries four.

Responding to questions about the out-lot, which is a little under an acre in size, Lake said Walmart is still working on the site plan, although, he added, “I don’t envision fast food happening.”

As far as a strip mall and shops go, he said, “We’re not proposing any of that.

Lake explained there will be a 165-foot setback from Olesen Road, which will be left as natural desert supplemented and “densed up” with trees and vegetation removed from the building site.

There will be a setback ranging from about 680 to 890 feet from Cave Creek Road.

For comparison purposes, he said Target at the Summit is set back approximately 800 feet from Scottsdale Road and has a similar grade, whereas Lowe’s is setback approximately 250 feet from Cave Creek Road.

The restaurant owner said there was a rumor that Walmart was trying to create a “win-win situation with area businesses,” and asked, “What do you have to offer? I’m just trying to address rumors” pertaining to the development of the out-lot.

“Walmart is not a commercial developer,” said Lake, “We’re a retailer.”

Garcia said Walmart was still in the site-planning process.

Another restaurant owner asked how much sales tax revenue was being projected and said some business owners had concerns about the sale of Western things such as boots and saddles.

“The merchandise will be similar to what you see in other Walmart stores,” said Garcia, “We don’t anticipate being any competition.”

Because individual store’s sales figures are proprietary information, Garcia said she couldn’t give that type of information but, on a statewide basis, with 108 stores, Walmart provides about $130 million in tax revenue to the state.

Another business owner asked why Walmart picked Cave Creek.

Lake said, “If you look at the demographics, it’s the center of a large population base not currently being served,” adding, “You’d be surprised at the spectrum of people who shop at Walmart.”

A business owner asked if Walmart would be able to work with the community on a local level, for example, when one of the local schools is trying to raise money for something.
According to Garcia, Walmart budgets for that type of community participation and last year’s budget included $11 million.

She said once a request is made, the local management team can make an immediate decision but it could take up to a week to receive the check.

Another business owner said, “Most people are concerned about Cave Creek and what it looks like,” and asked, “What is Walmart going to do to maintain the quaintness of Cave Creek?”

Lake said they were working with staff on the site plan design while pointing out, when Walmart builds a store in the city, the store will be situated on the site in a very pronounced manner with parking lot light poles typically 30 to 40 feet tall. In Cave Creek, the lights will be ten feet to the top of pole to comply with the town’s dark sky ordinance and would be doing a photometric lighting study.

Another restaurant owner asked, “If Walmart doesn’t happen here, is there a plan B?”
Lake stated Walmart feels very confident in its choice of site.

One business owner asked if there would be traffic issues while the store is under construction.

Lake said the site is large enough to have access from Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway while it is under construction and stated Walmart would be doing some improvements to Cave Creek Road for a right turn or “deceleration lane.”

Responding to whether there will be a signal, Lake said, “We haven’t worked that out yet. We’d like to have a light.”

Another business owner asked if being a 24-hour store was “set in stone.”

According to Lake, all the Supercenters are 24-hours. He said there are some people who like to pick something up at 2 a.m. and it’s a practical matter, since people are there working anyway stocking shelves.

A business owner asked, “Is it normal practice for Walmart to buy property before the zoning is in place?”

Lake said he’s seen it done both ways but in this instance Walmart felt extremely confident about the site.

Garcia added, “It also depends if there’s an opportunity and if the property is for sale.”

Questions were asked about how long it will take to build and how many jobs it will create.
Lake said from the time they break ground, it takes from nine to 12 months to complete and will provide about 300 jobs.

Lake said, “We think most of the people in Cave Creek will shop there … Carefree will be pretty much the same,” since most people must pass through the intersection. He said the store will draw people from several miles to the south in Phoenix and Scottsdale, which will be easy right-turn access before reaching the intersection of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway.

Garcia stated, “We know from Zip Code analysis people from the area are already shopping at Walmart.”

A restaurant owner commented, in his opinion, he didn’t think Walmart would affect the town core.

Citing, “Tourists do know Walmart,” Garcia pointed to the stores in Show Low and Payson, which get a lot of business from tourists without taking away what the tourists came there for and reiterated, “I don’t believe Walmart is competition.”

One business owner commented, “My fear is with tax revenue coming in from Walmart, the town will pay less attention to the town,” and asked, “If Cave Creek is supposedly a tourist town, where is the parking and sidewalks?”

Abujbarah said, “Residents need to be active and tell the town what they want.”

Another business owner said, “I hadn’t set foot into a Walmart until this year. I really liked it,” noting it was great to be able to pick up bread, golf balls and shells all in the same trip.
A retail store owner commented about the sewer problem “stench” and water pressure problems and asked what the town was going to do about it and who was picking up the tab.
Abujbarah stated new customers have to pay 100 percent of cost for hookups, while Utilities Manager Jessica Marlow said the town still needs to make working on water line upgrades.

Abujbarah added, “The sales tax generated by Walmart will help pay for those improvements.”

A restaurant owner questioned what the real projected sales tax revenue will be from Walmart and said it’s jumped from $1.5 million to $2 million, then $2.5 million and now $3 million.

Abujbarah said, “Whatever it is, it’s more that the town is receiving now.”

He went on to say, “We don’t pick who comes here. We didn’t select Walmart. Projected sales tax revenue depends on the economy, market and store conditions.”

Garcia said, “We estimate this Walmart will generate what the average Walmart store generates.”

Responding to whether this will set a precedent as to what could happen in the town core and if it will pave the way for fast-food franchises, Abujbarah said, “If zoning is in place, they can do what they want.” However, he added, Cave Creek, by itself, is not where those types of businesses want to be.

Lake explained, “The way the law is now, this place could close down tonight and reopen as an Outback Steakhouse tomorrow.” He said zoning allows that, although the town can restrict the way it looks, and drive throughs.”

“Is this pretty much a done deal?” asked another.

Abujbarah replied, “No. Council has to make a decision and then if there’s a referendum on that decision, it will go to the voters.”

A restaurant owner asked what the biggest complaints have been.

 “That it’s residential property,” responded Lake, adding “We don’t happen to agree that this is a residential intersection.”

One shop owner stated, “I don’t want you to think everyone who’s a business owner is for this.”

A tour operator said, “If we have two town cores, we need to keep this one the way it is.”
Another business owner commented about when Home Depot came to Cave Creek, how it sounded like a good thing and could have been beautiful built under the town’s ordinances, while lamenting, “A referendum will postpone this six months. “I think this is an opportunity where we can work to preserve the core.”

Abujbarah reminded everyone the council meeting is on Monday and said, “OK, let’s talk about the water bills.”