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Wal-Mart won't have two stores here
Wal-Mart will not operate two stores in Ceres after all.

Company officials publicly announced on Friday that if the city of Ceres approves the Mitchell Ranch Center at Mitchell and Service roads, the Wal-Mart at Hatch and Mitchell will be relocated.

"This new store will be a relocation of the existing Ceres store to a site that will assist us in better serving our customers," said Aaron J. Rios, Wal-Mart's Senior Manager for Public Affairs and Government Relations.

Wal-Mart originally told Ceres city officials that the plan was to operate two stores in Ceres. That prompted some eyebrow raising at City Hall. Approximately four to five months ago Wal-Mart told the city that plans had changed.

"That really wasn't a surprise to us," said Ken Craig, director of Planning and Community Development for the city of Ceres. "We would have been pretty surprised if they were going to open up a brand-new Supercenter and keep that store just two miles away from each other. It just didn't seem to make a lot of sense."

The city is concerned about what happens to a vacant building on Hatch Road.

"We're going to be looking at those issues and certainly be a part of the dialogue with decision makers," said Craig.

He noted that the city doesn't have a clear picture what Wal-Mart plans to do with the existing store building if it's vacated.

"We will be seeking clarifications on their intent," said Craig. "We know that they are owner and are assuming that they will try to retain ownership. But we don't know. Maybe they are going to try to sell it."

Rios said Wal-Mart has a department which "re-tenants" store buildings that are vacated "as quick as possible."

"We're already in conversations with a number of different developers who are interested in the sight," said Rios. "What that will look like, it varies by location."

A relocation of a store in Stockton was backfilled by a furniture store and is now a Burlington Coat Factory, said Rios. In Palmdale, a Wal-Mart store that was relocated was remodeled into smaller spaces, one which is filled with a Factory 2 You.

"Most of the time those buildings are re-tenanted with other retailers that do compete with us in some form of our business."

The Wal-Mart Supercenter is the anchor of the proposed 26-acre project at the northwest corner of Mitchell and Service roads. The proposed building site is owned by Florida-based Regency Realty Group, the company proposing development. The entire center will consist of 304,000 square feet of retail space but the Supercenter will take up 208,172 square feet. The store would devote 36,167 square feet to grocery sales.

Supercenters differ from regular Wal-Mart stores as they are larger and sell groceries, electronics and many other products. They typically offer better prices than established grocery stores but have proven controversial in many California communities protective of smaller merchants.

"We look forward to bringing this Supercenter to Ceres and have received overwhelming support from the Ceres community as witnessed by the more than 8,500 area residents who have joined our Customer Action Network in support of the Supercenter project," said Rios.

The company has launched a website at to communicate the benefits of this project with our supporters and the community.

The Supercenter will be approximately 208,172 square feet of total floor area selling general merchandise and groceries, including fresh produce, seafood, bakery, meat, and deli. Other service uses may include a bank, vision center, and hair salon.

The larger store would result in an increase of about 100 jobs. The current Ceres Wal-Mart store employs over 350 associates and the Supercenter is expected to employ approximately 450. Rios said the jobs pay competitive wages as Wal-Mart's average hourly wage for full-time associates in California is $11.41.

Rios said that the new store, if approved, will incorporate progressive architecture and landscaping designs to build an environmentally friendly and energy efficient store.

He cited Wal-Mart's impact on the local economy has been major.

"Over the past three years alone, Wal-Mart purchased over $38 million worth of products from Stanislaus County suppliers - supporting over 6,500 local jobs that protect the Central Valley economy," said Rios.

He also noted that since 2000, Wal-Mart has contributed over $2.5 million to local causes and non-profit organizations throughout the Valley, including over $220,000 from the Ceres Wal-Mart store.

The Supercenter project is not without controversy. The project has drawn fire from some opponents in Ceres who dislike big box developments and who dislike the chain.

Turlock city officials fought a Supercenter and prevailed in a subsequent court ruling.

Planning Manager Barry Siebe said the sheer size of the project requires careful review. But the name of Wal-Mart also gives the city reason to carefully proceed.

Because a Wal-Mart is being proposed, the environmental studies must include a study of economic impacts. PMC has hired a subcontractor in Bay Area Economics (BAE) to study the economic impacts of the Supercenter. The city must determine what a mega Wal-Mart would do to existing businesses and what might happen if Wal-Mart abandons its existing store location at Mitchell and Hatch roads.

"When you're talking about one of these projects that has kind of everything under one roof, the nature of that does require some consideration for other types of retail in the area," said Siebe.

Recent court decisions concerning the development of big box retailers have indicated that a complete Environmental Impact Report (EIR) should include an economics impact analysis to assess potentials of urban decay due to possible closure of competing stores and subsequent vacancies and decline of respective shopping centers.

Mitchell Ranch is undergoing the environmental review process. Environmental studies must take into account the impact the proposed Mitchell Ranch Center will have on local traffic, air quality, noise and existing merchants. Pacific Municipal Consultants (PMC) is conducting the EIR on behalf of the city.

PMC is partnering also with Fehr & Peers to study traffic impacts caused by the proposal. The project is deemed to carry with it significant impacts to roads.

Earlier this year the city had hoped to be done with the environmental review of Mitchell Ranch by October and be before decision makers in January. That schedule has been pushed back.

"We're not on that schedule," said Craig. "As with these large projects and lots of players involved, it takes more time and you run into hiccups. The hiccups we've had are actually with the consultant doing the work and we've gotten behind schedule."