Walmart will open a 150,000 square foot supercenter on the site of the old Baker High School just off Victory Drive, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson announced today.
Ground is expected to be broken at the end of this year, Tomlinson said, and the building project could take 18 months. The 18-acre site, which includes property where the old Woodside Apartments once sat, will also feature 21,000 square feet of additional retail space.
At the announcement this morning on the site of the project, Tomlinson stressed that bringing Walmart to the site was a long-term team effort, citing Columbus Council, the Columbus Development Authority and Housing Authority, Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Department of Transportation, South Columbus Concerned Citizens and others.
“There have been many, many hands on the wheel of this particular economic development project,” Tomlinson said. “Every single councilor, and not just this council, but councils prior have had a hand in our announcement here today.”
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The Columbus Housing Authority owned the Baker High site. It received it in a land swap with the Muscogee County School District for the site down Benning Drive where the new Baker Middle School was built and across from the relatively new Arbor Pointe apartment complex, which replaced the old Baker Village.
Columbus Housing Authority CEO Len Williams said the development of Arbor Pointe was a catalyst that led to Valley Healthcare building a medical clinic nearby and the school district locating Baker Middle across the street. It also made the area more attractive for a large retailer such as Walmart, he said.
“I submit to you that none of that would have happened but for the city having the foresight to partner with us to replace Baker Village,” Williams said. “I don’t think Walmart would have located next to a 75-year-old dilapidated housing project.
“And you know what? We’re about to do the same thing at the BTW (Booker T. Washington Apartments) site and I think you’ll see the same thing happen there in the next five or six years.”
Williams said he had been involved in working with the city to bring a Walmart to south Columbus for years, since Bob Poydasheff was mayor and Carmen Cavezza was city manager. That project was aimed at the CHA nearby property where the new Baker Middle School was eventually located. That project fizzled, as did a later attempt to lure the retail giant to the area.
“At that point, I think most of us thought the project was dead. But there was one person who absolutely refused to let it die,” Williams said. “Our mayor, in fact, went out and commissioned her own market study, sent the information to Walmart, proving that this would be a good investment opportunity. Today, we’re seeing the fruits of that effort.”
A letter that Tomlinson sent to Walmart executives cites the market study, performed by Buxton Inc. and funded by the chamber and Development Authority, and lists reasons Walmart should consider the site.
Among the statistics the letter outlined were: Within a 10 minute drive of this site, there are 57,000 people, 30,000 housing units, an average household income of $40,000. Thirty-thousand cars a day pass the site, which is less than three miles from Fort Benning’s main gate.
Marlene Hunter-Lammie, Walmart regional general manager for south Georgia, echoed what other speakers said about teamwork being the key to getting the company’s investment.
“I think what you heard from the mayor is, this is truly about a team,” Hunter-Lammie said. “We’ve been investing in Columbus for over 25 years and today, because of all the support of the city and the great community has afforded us, we’re able to further this partnership. I can tell you from my 21 years at Walmart, nothing happens without a team.”
The actual Walmart building will sit on the site of the old school building, facing Victory Drive. Much of the rest of the acreage will be for parking and the other retail shops will be along the southwestern end of the property. A pawn shop that currently faces Victory Drive adjacent to the property will be moved to that end of the property also, according to Deputy City Manager David Arrington.
Currently, Levy Road bisects the property, but it will end at the development, Arrington said. There will be an entrance into the store property there and on Benning Drive, but the main entrance, which will have a traffic light, will be on Victory Drive, Arrington said.
Walmart has four stores in Columbus, on Gateway Road, Whittlesey Road, Airport Thruway and Buena Vista Road. There is also a Sam’s Club on Whittlesey.