The decision on whether Wal-Mart is going forward with its plans to build a store in Atascadero “could come any day now” as the national retailer evaluates its financial commitments on a corporate level, one city leader said this week.
Last month, representatives from the Arkansas-based retailer met with Atascadero City Council members in pairs to avoid breaching the state’s open-meetings law that prevents a majority of council members from meeting in private to discuss city business.
Councilman Brian Sturtevant didn’t meet because he was unavailable, according to the city.
The others met to touch base after litigation over the city’s 2012 approval of the store ended in the summer.
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The in-person meetings at the Atascadero City Administration Building lasted about 30 minutes apiece and followed a December phone conversation city staff and Mayor Tom O’Malley had with Wal-Mart officials. The discussions were informational, city leaders said.
“Basically, they have a whole new board of directors and are taking every project to their board of directors and deciding what they want to do,” Councilman Bob Kelley said of the conversation. “Wal-Mart is in the driver’s seat, and they will call us when they’re ready to move.”
In June 2012, the City Council unanimously approved construction of two shopping centers at Del Rio Road and El Camino Real: a Wal-Mart center and a separate shopping and dining development called The Annex. Madonna Enterprises recently purchased The Annex property and renamed it Del Rio Marketplace.
The next step is for Wal-Mart to apply for building permits, but the company has not stated when it plans to do that. Wal-Mart has until July 2016 to get permits, which is when parcel maps tied to the project’s boundary lines expire. The company is also entitled to five one-year extensions on the parcel maps. Del Rio Marketplace can’t be built until costly interchange improvements are in place.
Meanwhile, late last year, the city announced that those interchange improvements could cost about $12 million — at least three times more than initially thought in 2012, when the city signed a cost-sharing agreement with the developers.
The City Council hasn’t directed staff to pursue any potential renegotiations with Wal-Mart or Madonna Enterprises to make up the difference.
The latest Wal-Mart discussions follow a similar message the retailer relayed to the city in December, when city staff said corporate representatives indicated that Atascadero’s store was in the company’s real estate review committee stage and that the process was on hold while the company focused on its holiday retail season.