LEWISTON – Plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Exit 80 have been abandoned, victim of corporate gear-shifting and expensive site development costs.

“We’re certainly disappointed,” said Lincoln Jeffers, economic development director for the city who has been working on retail development at that site since 2005. “That seems to be the overriding reaction.”

Plans to build the 190,000-square-foot store were announced in January 2007, the long-awaited anchor tenant for a 75-acre retail zone near the city’s Maine Turnpike exit. The site was split into two parcels, one under development by locals Gendron & Gendron and the other by Massachusetts-based Hecht Co. Hecht was undertaking the Wal-Mart project, which was initially slotted for a 2007 groundbreaking.

“The writing was on the wall, but we kept trying to resurrect the project and move it forward,” said Jeffers, alluding to reports of Wal-Mart nationally pulling back on its expansion plans.

It was a shift in corporate thinking that derailed the project, said Philip Serghini, spokesman for the mega retailer. He said Wal-Mart’s business model now focuses on upgrading and renovating existing stores in the United States and focusing new construction in international markets. He said the decision to abandon the Exit 80 store was made last week, as executives reviewed projects in the pipeline with its new focus.

“This was purely a strategic move,” Serghini said. The decision was made after executives re-evaluated the anticipated budget for the project, determining that the final costs associated with the turnpike site would be too excessive. He declined to detail those costs. City staff have estimated the cost for traffic improvements alone to be in the $2 million range.

Jeffers said the announcement is especially disheartening since the project had all its necessary permits to break ground. He said he began to fear for the project’s future when he spoke to the retailer’s representatives and said the city was good to go; Wal-Mart only needed to submit its plans for a building permit.

“They weren’t as responsive as I’d have liked,” he said. The city had rezoned the parcel, passed a subdivision amendment and discontinued some streets to facilitate the project. The state had already issued environmental permits.

Full Story: www.sunjournal.com/story/258526-3/MaineNews/WalMart_plan_scrapped/