Wal-Mart to open store in Lewiston

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LEWISTON – The anticipation is finally over.

Wal-Mart Supercenter will be the long-awaited anchor tenant of a new retail complex off Exit 80 of the Maine Turnpike.

“We’re very excited, obviously,” said Lincoln Jeffers, chief of economic development for the city. “Wal-Mart is a market leader. Where they site is where others follow.”

A traffic study for the 191,000-square-foot store has been submitted to the Maine Department of Transportation, and city planners expect to begin their review in February.

Developer Patrick Cleary of the Massachusetts-based Hecht Co., said he hopes to break ground this year on the store, but hesitated to guess when it might be open.

“At this point, it’s a matter of permitting,” he said. “We’re set up to be as efficient as possible, but it requires a lot of coordination.”

The store will be built on a 24-acre chunk of the 35-acre parcel that sits between the Maine Turnpike and Alfred Plourde Parkway. The project has been in the works since September 2005 when planners identified the parcel, and a 40-acre sister site to its east, as ideal for retail development.

Although developers signed on, landing an anchor tenant proved more challenging than expected, in part due to new state storm-water regulations that affected how the parcel could be developed.

“The site is designed to minimize environmental impacts,” Jeffers said. “As a result, the size of the store has changed several times over the year.”

Although the store is on the smaller side of a Wal-Mart Supercenter, it is perfect for the market, said Chris Buchanan, senior manager of public affairs for the mega retailer.

“Our real estate folks did a great deal of research,” he said. “This is a good fit for everybody and the community. Overall, we’re very excited about serving customers in Lewiston and the general area.”

Buchanan also declined to guess when the store would open, but said he was sure the area could sustain both a new supercenter and the existing store in Auburn.

“That store is doing very well and we expect Lewiston will do just the same,” he said.

Jeffers said the store makes sense from a market perspective, as it will draw shoppers from Lewiston, Sabattus, Lisbon and Greene, as well as thousands of commuters.

“People go right by this site every day,” he said. “Plus there are plenty of people living here who will want the convenience of shopping there.”

The project is being developed without any city subsidy, Jeffers said. Buchanan said the store will likely provide between 380 and 425 jobs for the area, most of which are full time.

Developer John Gendron said the announcement is welcome news for his company, which is developing the neighboring parcel.

“This will bring other players to the table,” he said, anticipating that Wal-Mart’s commitment will help speed the development of the Gendron & Gendron parcel. Although he had no tenants to announce Wednesday, “we are working with people as we speak,” he said.

Several regulatory changes were made by the city to pave the way for retail development at Exit 80. Formerly industrial sites, the parcels had to be rezoned and both Challenger Drive and Atlantis Way are slated to become private streets. Jeffers said the subdivision plan for the area was amended to allow for grouping of outparcel pad sites – the clusters of junior retailers like restaurants and smaller specialty stores that like to locate in the shadow of a big-box retailer.

No one is guessing who might occupy the other 11 acres of the Hecht site, but negotiations are under way.

“There’s been some interest from other retailers, but you can’t start making commitments with other retailers until the anchor is set,” Cleary said. “But I’m confident deals will be made.”

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