Update: Walmart Neighborhood Market planned for Manchester Expressway

A Walmart Neighborhood Market, the mega-retailer’s grocery store format, is planned for Manchester Expressway, adjacent to Columbus Technical College.

The 41,983-square-foot store is to be built on just over eight acres at 1042 Manchester Expressway, the former home of Daniel Elementary School, said Matt Sasser, an Atlanta-based developer representing rezoning applicant, Bright-Meyers Manchester LLC, at Wednesday’s Columbus Planning Advisory Commission.

“We would like to start construction the first quarter of next year and probably be opening the year after that,” Sasser said moments after PAC members gave their approval of the project, sending the rezoning case to Columbus Council at a date to be determined.

Bright-Meyers Manchester is seeking to have the property rezoned from residential multifamily to general commercial.

The Muscogee County School District still owns the land and empty brick structure on the property. In May, the Muscogee County School Board approved a “right to purchase agreement” with Bright-Meyers, with a price tag of $1,225,000.

“They have to get all of their approvals in place and then we will close soon after that. I hope sometime this fall, but we don’t have a date,” said Myles Caggins, chief operations and facilities officer for the school district. “They’re wanting to move on it pretty fast.”

The Walmart Neighborhood Market will be accompanied by 10,500 square feet of additional retail space, along with a 12-pump gas station operated by Walmart. There also will be 210 parking spaces, with eight of those reserved for handicapped consumers.

“It’s a main retail corridor running through Columbus with high density. And it’s the college, too,” Sasser said of the decision to locate the supermarket and retail center on Manchester Expressway, next to Columbus Tech and several thousand students who attend the school.

The city has obtained a traffic study for the proposed development and is reviewing it. The developers are proposing road improvements in the area, including decel lanes, widening Earline Avenue to three lanes and installing a signal at that avenue’s intersection with Manchester Expressway.

Columbus Technical College President Lorette Hoover, who met with the developers last week, said she welcomes any improvements that slow traffic down and make the area safer. Hundreds of students cross the expressway each day as they move between classrooms and parking on each side of the five-lane road.

“We have had over the years plenty of accidents at our traffic light where the cross lane is,” she said. “Some of them were very horrible and tragic accidents. So maybe that additional traffic light will help slow down the traffic since the road department removed the school zone flashing light” fronting the former Daniel Elementary.

Aside from safety, Hoover said she welcomes the retailer, which obviously will be used by some of her college’s 6,300 students seeking degrees. The college also oversees about 1,800 adult education students.

“Walmart is a great retailer and they’ll make a good neighbor,” she said. “Walmart’s known for giving scholarships to technical school students.”

A Georgia Department of Transportation traffic study from 2012 shows 16,580 vehicles passing the proposed site of the Walmart Neighborhood Market each day, then jumping as high as 33,000 vehicles heading farther east on Manchester Expressway toward Interstate 185.

Just east of the proposed center, Veterans Parkway from downtown Columbus northeast to J.R. Allen Parkway, carries between 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles each day, the traffic study shows, while J.R. Allen at the Second Avenue exit not far from the proposed Walmart market sees between 59,000 and 64,000 vehicles daily.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. began designing the neighborhood market format in 1998 as a smaller footprint to compete with traditional grocery stores. But the rollout has become more urgent with the rapid growth in smaller retailers, such as Dollar General and Family Dollar, which have been opening locations aggressively in recent years amid the recession and slow recovery. Those locations also are selling more food products.

The Walmart Neighborhood markets average about 38,000 square feet and employ up to 95 people, according to the retailer’s website. It had 365 such stores in the U.S. as of May 31. Supercenters average about 182,000 square feet, while also selling clothing, hardware and larger household items, gardening goods and automotive products, including tires and batteries.

Walmart’s top executives have publicly stated their goal is to reach 500 markets, which are easier to navigate and carry typical grocery fare — fresh produce, meat and dairy products, bakery and deli foods, and smaller home, health and beauty goods. The outlets also have pharmacies, which compete head to head with a growing segment that includes Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid.

Walmart’s U.S. presence also includes 3,325 supercenters, 497 discount stores, 636 Sam’s Club stores, and 63 small-format outlets that range from Walmart Express (about 15,000 square feet) to stores geared toward Hispanics, such as Amigo and Supermercado.

The proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market in Columbus is jumping into an already crowded grocery market. A half-mile away on River Road is a Piggly Wiggly store, while Publix is 2.3 miles north on Bradley Park Drive. Its own Walmart Supercenter on Airport Thruway is just 2.4 miles away.

This is the second Walmart project to surface this year, with the retailer unveiling plans in May to open a 150,000-square-foot supercenter off Victory Drive in south Columbus, where Baker High School once stood. The 18-acre site will include about 21,000 square feet of additional retail space.

Sasser, who is working on that project as well, said he expects construction on the supercenter to begin in early 2015, with it taking about a year to complete. The real-estate executive said he knows of no other Walmart Neighborhood Markets targeted for the Columbus area.“I do think that they are looking at other sites,” he said. “I’m not personally, though.

There now are three supercenters in Columbus — Airport Thruway, Whittlesey Boulevard and Gateway Road — and a smaller Walmart discount store on Buena Vista Road. There also is a supercenter on U.S. Highway 280/431 in Phenix City.