By Dan Atkinson
Wicked Local Watertown • May 19, 2012
WATERTOWN – Walmart is suspending its push to build a superstore in Watertown and its plans to build a grocery store at the old Circuit City site at Assembly Square in Somerville.
“One of the primary deciding factors on any given site – whether it’s in an urban, suburban or rural market – is that it makes sense from a business perspective and contributes to our bottom line,” Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said in an interview Friday. “In the case of the Somerville and Watertown sites, we made a business decision that the projected cost of investment would exceed our expected return.”
Although the company had been eyeing both sites for a year, Walmart had not officially submitted plans at either the Circuit City location or the site on Arsenal Street in Watertown, about a mile from Watertown Square. Walmart had entered a 50-year-lease with developers Cresset LLC for the Watertown site, but Restivo said there was an “out” in the lease.
Restivo said the size of the potential stores – about 30,000 square feet in Somerville and 90,000 square feet in Watertown – were “on the smaller end” of their respective formats of “neighborhood market” and “superstore,” which contributed to the company deciding not to develop.
The company saw different municipal receptions to its store proposals. Local business group Somerville Local First were open to the idea of a grocery store in Assembly Square, but in Watertown, the superstore proposal was quickly attacked by residents, with local activist Mike Mandel running a nearly-successful write-in campaign for town council based on opposition to the store.
“I’m pleased, because I think that it wasn’t the right thing to do for the city, for the town of Watertown,” said Sideris after learning that Walmart will not be coming to the town. “Walmart has put out that they have chosen to do this as a business decision, but I do believe that the groundswell of people that were against Walmart here in Watertown had something to do with their choosing not to come here.”
In a Facebook posting to the group Watertown Spring, Mandel praised his fellow community activists.
“We’ve Won! The real story today is that when enough people come together to organize and fight, people take notice,” Mandel wrote. “Over the past year and a half so many Watertown residents have built a town-wide consensus that Watertown should not be the dumping ground for any more Big Box developments. The red signs, the petitions, the billboard, the letters and articles that have appeared in our local media, the Council election: we have been heard! And apparently our voice has been clearly understood by the developer and the biggest corporation in America headquartered in Arkansas.”
But Restivo said public opinion played no role in Walmart’s decision.
“The campaign was not unlike other efforts we’ve seen across Massachusetts,” he said. “When the stores open, people vote with their feet. And when people are for something, they’re not as inclined to be as open about it as people who are opposed.”
Restivo said Walmart is still looking to develop in the metro Boston area and “hoped to find new sites in these communities in the near future.”
Watertown TAB reporter Emily Cataneo contributed to this report.
Read more: Walmart pulls out of Somerville and Watertown sites – Watertown, MA – Watertown TAB http://www.wickedlocal.com/watertown/news/x1884281167/Walmart-pulls-out-of-Somerville-and-Watertown-sites#ixzz2f4vkgDkS
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