Making progress

The Wal-Mart Supercenters being constructed on Airport Thruway and Gateway Road in Columbus are well on their way to completion. But they definitely won't be open for Christmas shopping.

"I would still say it's going to be the first of the year, February or March," Glen Wilkins, Wal-Mart's senior manager of public affairs for Georgia, said Tuesday.

Wilkins' comments came as large helicopters put in place massive air-conditioning units Tuesday morning at the 6475 Gateway Road store. Crews will now install the equipment that will cool the 203,819-square-foot supercenter that is being built on 22 acres at the intersection of J.R. Allen Parkway and Manchester Expressway.

Just like the 2801 Airport Thruway store — which is being rebuilt from a non-supercenter format — the overall structure is up, with crews already putting a crushed-stone base down for the parking lot.

The 156,160-square-foot Airport Thruway store, however, appears to be further along with much of the building's exterior already painted.

The schedule has contractors turning over the completed supercenters in November. Stocking will then begin, but there won't be enough time to finish for the holiday shopping season, which officially kicks off the day after Thanksgiving.

"It's interesting how things come together in construction, and the last I heard is we're still on track to open them up at the same time," Wilkins said.

Outparcel lots are being added at the Airport Thruway location, although Wilkins did not know of any tenants that have committed to the site.

The closure of the old Wal-Mart has had a ripple effect, however, with a couple of tenants in an adjoining shopping center closing. A Wachovia bank branch also has shut its doors, with a phone prompt saying it has been consolidated into the new Columbus Park Crossing branch at 5538 Whittlesey Blvd.

Meanwhile, developer Ben Billings said he anticipates breaking ground in 60 days on 40,000 square feet of retail space adjacent to the Gateway Road supercenter. There also will be four outparcels, among them a 7,000-square-foot restaurant, in what is being called Billings Crossing.

No leases have been signed yet, said Billings, who sold the Gateway land to Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. A shoe store, dress shop, sporting goods outlet and hair salon are among the possibilities, he said. The largest retail space looks to be 5,000 square feet.

"This being my first commercial venture, I've learned a lot in a very short time," said Billings, previously only dealing in a residential housing developer.

"Nobody wants to be the first person to sign," he said. "You won't have an upper-scale store come in and sign and say, 'I want to be here,' until they know who's going to be on both sides of 'em.

Wal-Mart continues to seek a site to relocate its 4701 Buena Vista Road non-supercenter store, Wilkins said. He also said the company is committed to constructing a new supercenter in the south Columbus area.

"We're continuing to look just as we promised we would," he said. "It's just making sure that we do it right. We don't want to jump into something and not do it right the first time. It is a community that we want to continue to serve and we're going to do it. "