Plans for a new Walmart Neighborhood Market at the site of the Augusta Public Transit bus depot continue to move forward, with no known involvement by the Medical College of Georgia Foundation or Georgia Health Sciences University.
The foundation owns property at 15th Street and John Calhoun Expressway that adjoins the transit property and includes a Kroger, and GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said recently that a new Walmart there that wasn’t part of a “greater vision” for the area would be detrimental to the university.
The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday on rezoning a site on Wrightsboro Road for another Walmart store. Two Walmart representatives in town for the vote said they did not know of any proposal from adjoining landowners that might involve the neighborhood market.
“I’m not aware that we were offered that opportunity,” said Bill Wertz, the director of community and media relations for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s East Business Unit. “We were invited to be part of a development that already had been put together.”
The proposal presented to the commission on behalf of developer Blanchard and Calhoun in January calls for a 40,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market to go on the city’s land, facing Walton Way, and a few adjoining smaller parcels also to be developed.
Glen Wilkins, the senior manager of Wal-Mart public affairs for the Southeast, said that that is the plan the company has for the store and that it is unlikely to change.
The commission’s secret Jan. 17 vote to transfer the bus barn to the Augusta Land Bank for a Walmart upset the foundation, which offered the city $1 million for the bus site in 2009. The vote also violated Georgia open-meetings laws, said David Hudson, an attorney for the Georgia Press Association and The Augusta Chronicle.
Wal-Mart has been rolling out the neighborhood market model in recent years, but there isn’t one in Georgia yet, Wertz said. It would have a pharmacy and the capacity to be open 24 hours a day, he said.
The smaller store specializes in providing fresh produce and other grocery items at Walmart prices for shoppers who don’t have time to visit a large Walmart Supercenter and likely will be a boon, not a detriment, to the area, Wertz said.
“Typically, when we locate near another retailer, it works well for customers,” he said.
Wilkins said the neighborhood markets normally take a year to build and open. The city and Blanchard and Calhoun have a year to complete the legal steps associated with the transaction before ground is broken for the store.