Wal-Mart Developer Pushes for State Support

DERBY - Representatives from Newport City, Derby Town and local legislators met with Burlington developer Jeffrey Davis at the Cow Palace Monday evening to discuss bringing a Wal-Mart to the Newport Derby area.The meeting was unofficial and Derby Select Board Chair Brian Smith, who somewhat moderated the informal gathering, asked if anyone objected having the press present and offered to hold the meeting at another time. Rep. Duncan Kilmartin (R-Orleans-2) expressed concerns about making comments or even accepting documents from Davis with the press present. The documents included letters and news stories that area residents support a Wal-Mart. Davis insisted there was nothing in the paperwork that’s private and he didn’t care either way. In the end, the meeting continued at the restaurant in front of the press.“Wal-Mart is interested,” said Davis “We’re in lease negotiations with Wal-Mart.”Davis gave an update on bringing the store to the area and encouraged those present to try to get support from Gov. Peter Shumlin. Davis stressed there is nothing definite, but said the project is close to the “finish line.” He said the company asked him to obtain government support. “The State of Vermont is one of the most anti-business states in the United States,” said Smith. “I don’t blame a chain like Wal-Mart wanting to be sure they will be able to proceed. It’s a shame the State of Vermont has bucked this store for the last 10 or 15 years.”Three weeks ago, Davis, Smith, City Manager John Ward Jr. and Mayor Paul Monette met with the Commissioner of Economic Development and with the Secretary of Commerce to ask if they thought there would be “any show stoppers.” Those officials, said Davis, said they didn’t see any huge issues. Derby has entertained other stores like Target, but none of them are interested, Derby Select Board Member Beula-Jean Shattuck said.“We need a retail store here,” said Shattuck. “I am tired of seeing the people go out of this area to shop.”Davis thinks Wal-Mart will agree to build a store as long as it’s a Super Center, about 150,000 square feet. Opponents, some from outside the region, will try to convince local residents that Wal-Mart would build a smaller store, said Davis. However, that is not true.“They will back away or not even say yes to begin with if someone suggests a smaller store,” said Davis. Monette said people tell him every day that they want a store. “We need to do something to get a store here.” The state is losing sales tax revenue when people leave the state to shop, Smith said.The proposed site is between Derby Road and Shattuck Hill. The project also needs permits and a traffic study. Kilmartin suggested building the store off the Quarry Road, on a piece of property near Price Chopper, once eyed by Lowes. On the Derby Road, Act 250 and the Agency of Transportation will look at the number of vehicles per hour during peak hours. Kilmartin asked if Shattuck Hill would become a four-lane road to handle the traffic entering from that side of the property. Monette said he likes the location because of the proximity of Newport’s downtown. “I think it will help bring stores into our downtown,” said Monette.“If we had to start over again and find another site, we might as well wait another five to ten years,” said Smith. “Jeff is on a pretty good roll and I think we should continue right on with it.”Rep. Mike Marcotte (Orleans-2) said there is some fear a superstore will hurt the local business community. He said he thinks they can do something to enhance business for everybody. Marcotte said the biggest concerns might come from Shaw’s and Price Chopper, two large supermarkets within a couple miles or so from the property.  One of those stores will probably close and something else will move in, Smith said.Kilmartin expressed concerns about the demographics for such a large store. “One out of every two people in the City of Newport is on state assistance,” he said. Years ago, there used to be several large stores in the region, said Smith.  The first thing, said Sen. Robert Starr of North Troy, is to try to get blessings from the administration. The legislators plan to meet with Shumlin this week.Davis said he doesn’t think Gov. Peter Shumlin or anyone else will say “build it tomorrow.” He said that he hopes state officials will support the concept and agree to look at the studies. The whole idea is dead if the project needs millions of dollars in road improvements that won't be paid for by the state.“Wal-Mart is not going to do that,” said Davis. “We have to do the studies. If that’s the way they come back, then we lose. But, we don’t think that’s the case.”Davis said he warned Wal-Mart to expect appeals. “This thing will not get permitted and built in one year,” said Davis. “It will be great if that happens, but that’s not our plan.”The cost to build a store like the one that is proposed is about $23 million. A store this size will employ about 250 full-time and 200 part-time people.