Delayed shopping center

By TOM TIGANI
Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — The way soon will begin to clear for the arrival of a new Wal-Mart store on the northwest corner of Dix-Toledo and Eureka roads.

After delays in starting demolition of the former shopping complex that housed big-box stores HQ and Best Buy, along with several other stores, it is scheduled to come down in July or August, City Administrator Brandon Fournier said Wednesday.

Wal-Mart’s impending arrival was in the works for some time but was announced publicly in October, when company officials approached the city’s Planning Commission about some zoning variances.

Demolition originally was planned to start this month or next on the shopping center just south of the city’s municipal complex.

However, problems with the water system resulted in the need for some testing to see if the complex had adequate pressure for a fire suppression system. Fournier said trying to conduct the tests in winter — not the optimum time — helped push back the demolition date.

Another minor holdup, he said, has been an the working out of an agreement between Wal-Mart and the entity that will own the property.

Once those details are settled, the entire complex will be demolished to make way for the new Wal-Mart.

The complex has been vacant since Best Buy, the last major tenant of the shopping center, moved to Southland Center in Taylor about three years ago. Mayor Joseph Kuspa is pleased that the project finally is moving forward.

“I think it’s very exciting for the community,” he said. “It shows the rebirth of that corner and will invite a lot of Downriverites into Southgate.”

Kuspa said officials are looking at other ways to attract additional business to the city as result of the new store and have discussed some ideas with the city’s Small Business Advisory Council.

“We’re trying to be proactive in that regard and capitalize on traffic flow,” he said.

The new store in some ways is a reversal of how developers have worked with officials in the recent past, Kuspa said, adding there has been “some misconception” over whether the city gave tax incentives to Wal-Mart.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “There has been no kind of abatement or any of the other incentives communities might have to do in the past.”

In fact, Kuspa said, company officials have agreed to create an aesthetically pleasing, precast fence around the complex to separate it from city property to replace the decaying structure currently in place. They have agreed to fix it at their expense and also bear the cost of installing a traffic light near the entrance along Dix-Toledo between Eureka and Reaume Parkway. A monument-style sign, which the mayor said also will be aesthetically pleasing, will mark the entrance.

“I think they see Southgate as the demographic that they’re looking for,” Kuspa said of Wal-Mart officials. “They really wanted to be here.

“I think they saw once they saw success of Sam’s Club (15700 North Line Road), that probably adding to some of their assurances, too.”

Wal-Mart’s arrival in town has been a long time coming, Kuspa said. Company officials first approached the city 20 years ago about using the site, but said at the time they needed property of the city’s Department of Public Services and police station to build the kind of store they wanted. In the meantime, smaller inventories have enabled the company to scale back its store designs.

Kuspa said city officials still are pursuing other large retailers, but that many are pausing and waiting for things to stabilize economically in southeast Michigan before making any commitments.

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