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VOL. 38 | NO. 19 | Friday, May 9, 2014

Murfreesboro faces more Walmart anxiety

By Sam Stockard

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When Walmart puts its stamp on a town or area of a city, it’s almost always a change agent with noticeable impact on shoppers, traffic, new business development, existing stores and the overall economy.

As with all change agents comes divided opinion, ranging from those who jump on the bandwagon to those who jump ship and find another Walmart-less place to live.

Love it or hate it, the new Walmart Supercenter being built on Memorial Boulevard in Murfreesboro is expected to be a catalyst for economic development in the north part of the city, spurring the addition of a mix of shops, restaurants and, of course, more cars.

Walter Hill resident Dianna Swader can’t wait for opening day.

It’ll move her miles closer to her favorite store.

“I like Walmart, and that one’s closer to me, so I think that’s great,” the General Electric retiree says.

Not everyone shares her enthusiasm for progress.

Haynes Haven resident Chris Duke is apprehensive since he already spends what seems like an eternity getting out of his neighborhood street onto Memorial, just a hundred yards or so from the rising store.

“I love Murfreesboro,” he says of the city where he and his wife, Lori, raised their sons, Will and Hayden. “It’s not as desirable a place for me as it used to be.”

Family waits patiently

J.B. Haynes Family Real Estate owns a large tract it plans to develop west of Memorial between AdamsPlace, a senior living and treatment center, and the U.S. post office next to Kroger.

“Walmart means traffic, and traffic means interest in new development. That’s inevitable,” says Sam Haynes, of Haynes Family Real Estate.

For now, the Haynes family is content to farm the land, he says, but the family’s property frontage on Memorial is zoned for commercial highway use – a good draw for upscale restaurants – and they are waiting for the market to bring a company that fits their wish to “meet the demands” of north Murfreesboro.

That could be a large tenant such as a home improvement store, Haynes says.

The family has plenty of land for such a buyer.

One thing he promises, though, “We hope [it] to be a carefully planned development, and it won’t be like Broad Street,” which grew up under less regulation during the 1960s and ’70s.

Murfreesboro Planning Director Joseph Aydelott echoes Haynes, saying the family will be “selective.”

“Their property has the mass for a well-planned and well-orchestrated development,” Aydelott, explains, adding a company with the “magnitude” of Home Depot or Target could locate there. He says nice restaurants also could be built on their property.

More new business

While the Haynes family is biding its time, other developers are likely to work more quickly east of Memorial between the Walmart site and a Murfreesboro fire hall next to SportsCom, a city-owned athletic and fitness complex.

The stretch of single-family homes and duplexes is zoned for commercial highway use, and a McMinnville development partnership has purchased or has under contract the four properties just north of the Walmart site.

It hasn’t submitted any proposals yet, Aydelott says.

The McMinnville developers constructed the building that houses the Mellow Mushroom restaurant across from the Rutherford Boulevard Walmart, where businesses sprang up in Walmart’s wake.

Aydelott expects similar restaurant and specialty businesses to follow along Memorial.

How it started

Murfreesboro’s Planning Commission gave approval for the Walmart Supercenter in 2013 after a group of property owners put together several tracts that could help land the deal.

The property, located in front of Murfreesboro Municipal Airport and just across from AdamsPlace, was zoned for commercial highway use already and required only site approval, not a public hearing, from the commission.

While Walmart has its share of detractors, who complain it clogs streets and pushes out competitors with unfair pricing measures, it clearly has supporters who flock there.

Customers want a Walmart in their neighborhood, and the company says Murfreesboro’s 110,000-plus population can provide a strong base for sales, says Erica Jones, Walmart senior manager of communications.

That led the company to build the third Murfreesboro store on Memorial and what will be the city’s fourth Walmart on South Church Street in south Murfreesboro.

Yet another is coming to the intersection of Murfreesboro Road and Fergus Road in La Vergne.

Though she could not predict Walmart’s impact on north Murfreesboro, she notes, “Historically, the Walmart stores actually help start economic development.”

Usually, those come through new businesses such as florists, bookstores and specialty grocery stores, she says.

Aydelott points out that the Rutherford Boulevard Walmart was the first development in that area and spurred the opening of numerous restaurants and shops there. The Memorial store is in a different situation since it’s near many longstanding businesses.

“I believe a lot of the existing businesses will experience a lot of pickup in trade,” he says, especially fast-food restaurants and physician and dental offices.

Of course, some who compete directly with Walmart products could see a drop in traffic, he says.

Haynes Hardware manager Richard Schmidt says Walmart will cause more traffic on Memorial Boulevard and not necessarily bring customers to his store, located about 100 yards off the main road behind Reeves-Sain Drugstore.

But while Walmart might take some customers who need to pick up a couple of items quickly, Schmidt explains they’ll come to the hardware store when they find out Walmart doesn’t carry what they need.

“We have a lot of customers who trade with us who live on this side of town because we’re local people,” Schmidt says. The family-owned business opened in 1922 and moved to the Memorial location from the Public Square in 1989.

Loyal Haynes Hardware customers also like having someone help them find what they need as soon as they walk in the door, Schmidt adds.

Driving outlook

Walmart is certainly projected to create plenty of traffic, 4,000 more vehicles a day, for a total of 32,000 vehicles daily under existing road conditions, according to Murfreesboro Transportation Director Dana Richardson.

“Memorial will operate at an acceptable level of service,” Richardson says. But some street changes could lessen those traffic numbers.

Improvements are to be made to Airport Road and Memorial, where a traffic signal is already located. Another street is to be constructed on the north side of the new Walmart.

Street signals will be erected at its intersection with Memorial there, and that new street eventually will cross Memorial and go onto the Haynes’ property before turning north, connecting with Irongate Drive and coming out on Haynes Drive.

That street will enable traffic in the Ravenwood neighborhood and on Haynes Drive to reach Walmart without having to drive north and south on Memorial, Richardson says.

Walmart should actually help traffic on a citywide basis, Richardson says, noting that Walmart and spin-off businesses will enable people living in north Murfreesboro to eat and shop there without having to cross Northwest Broad Street to go to the Stones River Mall area.

“It’s a benefit to have something in close proximity,” Richardson says.

Consumer outlook

Walmart will become a new destination for Walter Hill’s Swader, who lives about seven miles from the store site. Typically, she takes North Thompson Lane to reach her doctor’s office and doesn’t travel Memorial often.

Swader hopes local officials can work out any problems with increased traffic, though she isn’t overly concerned. At this point, she asks where all the Walmart parking places will be located.

“It’s really convenient,” says Swader, who looks after her mother and great-grandchildren each day. “They have everything in there that you need.”

Duke, however, isn’t sold on Walmart or its impact. His “quiet neighborhood” street comes out beside AdamsPlace across from Sonic, and he’s already spending several minutes trying to get out.

“It makes me want to move,” he says. “We’ve talked about moving because of how it’s impacted our corner of Murfreesboro.”

Dukes acknowledges that he isn’t a Walmart shopper. He’s also concerned the building will be too close to the road. His only hope amid more congestion is some type of improvement to the Haynes Haven neighborhood entrance.

But if a Lowe’s store were to open just down the road, Dukes says he could definitely handle that.

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