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The wait for Walmart Supercenter drags on
• Chain is building fewer stores so is Ceres Supercenter on ice?
Ceres super center
Building permits were issued for the Ceres Walmart Supercenter in January but some are starting to wonder if the project has been put on ice.

The building permits have been in Walmart’s possession since January. So, why hasn’t there been a groundbreaking or any signs of preparation for the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center?

City officials are asked the question all the time but can only speculate why there’s been no building activity at the northwest corner of Service and Mitchell roads.

Eileen Pratt publicly asked the question about Walmart at the Aug. 29 Ceres City Council meeting and city officials confessed they didn’t have an answer. Her questions revealed a rumor circulating around town.

“I’d like to know the current status of the new Walmart,” asked Pratt. She also asked if the city was waiting for encroachment permits from Caltrans to install temporary traffic signals on Mitchell Road required to handle the traffic from the project. Pratt was told that Caltrans signed off on the permits and the city issued the building permits in January.

“Or have the permits been revoked like I hear through the grapevine?” she asked.

City Manager Toby Wells said Walmart’s permits are valid for two years.

“When they start to construction is completely their discretion,” Wells told Pratt.

Privately, there are concerns about Walmart’s commitment to the project. Excited after the building permits were issued in January, city officials now seem edgy when asked about the project.

In March 2018 the Walmart Corporation submitted building plans and filed an application for a building permit for construction of a new Walmart Supercenter – nearly 11 years after the project was originally proposed in 2007. The delays were caused by an opposition group which ultimately ran out the clock in their legal challenges. 

First proposed in 2007 by Regency, the Mitchell Ranch project with its anchor tenant of a Walmart Supercenter has been held up for over a decade by a front group designed to block or delay new stores from developing in boilerplate fashion. It’s a story that has repeated itself numerous times in multiple communities in California.

A similar waiting game is being played out in Porterville where a proposed Supercenter has been finally cleared for development after a decade and a half of legal protests over the project’s environmental studies –the same tactics used in Ceres. The Porterville Recorder published a story in July noting that: “Because talk about the Walmart Supercenter being built has been circulating in the community for years, this announcement has some Porterville residents wondering if it is actually going to happen this time around.”

The Porterville store was first proposed in 2004.

There are indications that Walmart may be reconsidering its building plan for new stores. According to Yahoo! Finance, earlier this year Walmart had more than 3,500 supercenters in the nation. That’s important to keep in mind given that Walmart opened only 15 Supercenters last year and only 10 nationwide this year.

Last year Business Insider was calling Walmart’s shift from opening more supercenters to beefing up an online presence an inevitable shift in their business model – one that was needed to stay relevant in changing consumer demands and the shift to e-commerce.

In April, Walmart announced plans to build new stores in California and Florida and remodel a total of 157 stores in those states plus Texas, Arizona, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The projects include the retailer’s discount store, Supercenter and Neighborhood Market formats.

California is home to 303 Walmart stores. On Aug. 7 the chain opened its newest Supercenter store in California in Tehachapi.

Despite announcing in June that it was closing 17 stores in the United States and Canada – including one in San Jose – Walmart said it is investing $145 million in California this year. That includes the remodeling of 21 stores, the launch of grocery delivery at 68 stores and addition of grocery pickup at 69 stores.

Only the Supercenter itself is currently proposed for construction within the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center in Ceres. Once construction starts – maybe the qualifier is if – the 185,682-square-foot Supercenter would precede plans for 10 other retail shops totaling 114,162 square feet, including three other major tenants and four smaller shops as well as a stand-alone retail building and two to three new restaurants.