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Wal-Mart Delivers Retail Boost to NWA Cities

5 min read

Springdale is hoping for a healthy Walmart effect.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville announced a couple of years ago its plan to build a Supercenter store on Elm Springs Road. That store is scheduled to open in August, and it won’t be lonely long.

The 70-acre-plus Hall Crossing site is just off Interstate 540, and two of the 11 out-parcel lots have already been sold to Arvest Bank and McDonald’s. Springdale officials said there is growing interest from businesses and developers in the areas and parcels surrounding the Walmart-anchored project.

“You’ll see other stuff cluster around it,” said Mike Harvey of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “It’s an agglomeration economy. It’s critical mass. It’ll attract people to the area. It’s going to be a real shot in the arm for Springdale.”

Springdale isn’t the only city looking for a Walmart boost. The company said it has eight projects in some stage of development in northwest Arkansas, and that’s not including a planned neighborhood market in Bentonville and a convenience store prototype that recently opened in Bentonville.

One Walmart that is stirring interest in addition to the Springdale Supercenter is a neighborhood market the company is building off Bentonville’s downtown square at a site formerly known as the Midtown Shopping Center. Tom Ginn of the city’s chamber of commerce said the Walmart is capitalizing on Bentonville’s renewed interest in developing the downtown area.

It is also spurring that development along.

“It’s not just a neighborhood market; it’s a whole urban [development] with offices, other retail spaces and a parking garage,” Ginn said. “People come by and build a business. It all feeds off each other. The Walmart effect has been there for years.”

The Walmart effect doesn’t just pertain to retailers, banks and restaurants. As Ginn said, office space is a component of the downtown development.

Grady Mathews, a commercial real estate developer with Newmark Grubb Arkansas of Bentonville, said there is a pickup in office space use related to Wal-Mart. Mathews said when Wal-Mart began signing longer contracts with vendors a few years ago, office space became much more in demand as vendors could feel more confidence in needing a long-term place to work from in the area.

“Wal-Mart is a real driver of office markets,” Mathews said. “When it comes to office space, Benton County is where everybody wants to be. Proximity to Wal-Mart is important.”

Bill Rogers, the vice president of communications and special projects for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, said Wal-Mart choosing the Elm Springs location was like a stamp of approval for the area. Rogers said Springdale had long wanted to develop the west side of the city adjacent to the interstate.

The city had hoped to do it in the years after Arvest Ballpark opened to host the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in 2008. Unfortunately, shortly after the minor league team moved to the area, a recession swept through the economy and much development was halted.

Springdale’s once-struggling tax base expects to get a boost not just from the 300-plus new employees at Walmart but the other businesses that open up around it.

“It’s huge,” Ginn said “It gives them an opportunity to grow that northern part of Washington County. It’s a catalyst. It spurs economic growth and creates jobs.”

Rogers said city leaders of Springdale showed foresight by going ahead anyway with infrastructure improvements, some of which will directly benefit the future development of the western side of the city. The city plans to extend and widen 56th Street from south of the ballpark to Elm Springs Road.

“It gives shoppers the opportunity to get from here to there,” Rogers said. “Development begets development. Walmart going in will speed up the timeline for additional development. You can see the potential. Walmart is the next brick in the wall.”

Rogers said the remaining nine outparcels at the Elm Springs site have attracted attention. There is more than outparcels, as well.

There are approximately 100 acres surrounding the future Walmart and the nearby Macadoodles. Rogers expects the combination of better infrastructure and an existing Supercenter will prove to be popular selling points.

“That will grow the attractiveness of the development,” Rogers said. “You take Walmart and these 11 out-lots. Being near a Supercenter is extremely attractive for retailers.

“That will be ready sooner, I believe, rather than later to open for development. It has significant potential for development.”

In Farmington, a neighborhood market across the street from city hall on Main Street has helped spark some growth, officials said. A Domino’s pizza restaurant and a Casey’s General Store have already opened down the street from the Walmart, which is still under construction.

Wal-Mart also has neighborhood markets going into Centerton, Siloam Springs and Rogers, and supercenters going into Centerton and Huntsville. The Rogers’ neighborhood market is also in a downtown location.

“What I’m really excited about is Wal-Mart is investing in downtowns,” Harvey said. “They want to attract residents and retrench. One of the big issues for residents is they were too far from the grocery store. That itself is going to have a big impact.”

Ginn said the Bentonville downtown square has become quite popular but finding space for major projects is a time-consuming, expensive project. The growth and demand make the effort worth it.

“It’s not just retail; it’s all kinds of projects,” Ginn said. “People are looking at the vibe. It all adds to the quality of life.”

Harvey said northwest Arkansas had big job-creation news in recent years with companies moving to the area or existing ones expanding. The region had the fourth-best increase in jobs by percentage in 2013.

Harvey said he doesn’t expect any big announcements soon, which is why activity like Walmart’s opening is key to continue the economic recovery momentum.

“Walmart is basically a magnet for other retailers and money,” Harvey said.

Several communities in northwest Arkansas certainly hope so.

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