Ground unbroken for proposed Super Walmart

Delays blamed on engineering paperwork

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

After several years rumors around town about the proposed new “Super Walmart” project, ground still hasn’t been broken.

According to Ridgecrest Economic Development Manager Gary Parsons, the current delay is on Walmart’s side.

“Walmart has terminated their third or fourth engineering firm and is in the process of hiring another to finish up the requirements for the engineering work, like drawings and cost estimates to determine the cost of the project,” said Parsons.

“We’re currently waiting for Walmart’s development team to come back to me with a new engineering team on their part and what projects they deem necessary.

“We’re waiting on them and they’re waiting on the new engineering firm. The numbers are subject to change depending on what the new engineer says. Walmart is still committed to the project. They keep spending money.

“Until we have finalized numbers that we can both agree on and both can finance, it can’t be done yet.”

The large, complex project involves multiple negotiations between Walmart and the city’s engineers and planners. To construct the new store and its entrance and parking lot, infrastructure matters first need to be resolved — fencing, widening of Bowman Road to four lanes, traffic signals, new drainage and a major culvert for potential flood runoff, landscaping, possible shade structures in the parking lot — the list goes on.

Some of these items carry hefty price tags, most of which will be paid by Walmart but some of which will be paid for by the city.

Adding to the complexity of the project, its funding sources can come and go. If the two sides have finally reached an agreement contingent on a particular funding source being available, and then the funding source dries up, is not renewed or expires, the project has to be shelved until an alternate funding source can be found. By that time, something may have changed in either side’s plans, and negotiations start over again.

“This has been going on about seven years,” said Parsons. “We spent a year and a half deciding what we wanted through city council and committees and groups. There was two years with the roundabout planning, but then that didn’t happen.

“Bowman Wash was to be a big linear park. The council authorized $10,000 for a study for that, then there was the California Environmental Quality Act — CEQA-2009 — which required a environmental impact study. Walmart did the study but never did get CEQA approval.

“A lot of things ate up a lot of time. Then we got down to what we could afford rather than somebody’s dream. Then our tax allocation bonds money got pulled, then Walmart decided to use a different engineering firm. Everything contributed to the delay.”

TAB funding involves $24 million that the city will have coming once litigation with the state of California that started in 2011 is resolved and a certificate of compliance is issued. This ongoing litigation involves a loan the city’s former redevelopment agency made to help finance a senior apartment complex at Downs Street and Church Avenue. Parsons described the problem as a timing issue. “The state is saying they want the $3 million back, and we’re saying we already built the project and the money is spent.”Once the money held up by that litigation is finally released, much of it is earmarked for streets and parks, in addition to the Walmart project.

According to Parsons, negotiations have been under way in hopes Walmart would advance $2.8 million to the city so that part of the work can get started on the infrastructure.

“The current total is at least $7 million worth of proposed work. The majority is being done by Walmart, and it’s running about 33 percent of the total that would be the city’s responsibility.”

Parsons emphasized that much work going on behind the scenes on this project.

“I’m talking to Walmart, an engineering team, a developer, and our engineering team, legal counsel on both sides, the mayor and city council” said Parsons.

‘They have a maximum and we have a maximum that we can spend. My engineering team generally sends any proposal out to be checked again by another team to be sure we don’t get snookered.”

Story First Published: 2013-05-22