A WalMart in Newport?

NEWPORT – Paul Bruhn, Executive Director of Preservation Trust of Vermont, wants a WalMart in the Northeast Kingdom, but not in Derby. His vision is to put it at the corner of Coventry Street and Main Street in Newport City, where the People's United Bank (formerly the Chittenden Bank), the back parking lot and the U.S. Post Office is now. Right across from Pick & Shovel.Chris Hamblett, president of the Pick and Shovel, has heard rumors about the possibility of a WalMart across the street from his business. "From a business owners standpoint, we are totally pro having it in Newport," he said. "I believe having it across the street from us would be a great decision. It would draw a lot of traffic to town. If we were right across the street from all that traffic, we should be able to benefit from it." Hamblett would favor having the store anywhere in Newport, a community that already has an existing infrastructure.Business developer Tony Pomerleau, who owns the Waterfront Plaza, likes the idea of having a WalMart in Newport."It would be tremendous for downtown," said Pomerleau, who suggested a one story building with a parking garage on the block between Second Street and Central Street. "That would really do something for downtown."Pomerleau would like to see WalMart built in Gardner Park, which is across the street from the Waterfront Plaza.Bruhn believes a WalMart superstore - which would include 300 parking spaces on a three-tier garage, a two-story shopping area, a bank and the post office - is just the thing to revitalize downtown Newport."We've been involved with WalMart since the 1990s," Bruhn said. "Vermonters need the kind of shopping experience that a WalMart provides."Bruhn said the important thing is to "get the concept out there" and "start the discussion.""People make assumptions of what is possible," he said. "This is about trying to start the conversation."When asked about traffic in a bottlenecked area famous for traffic jams, Bruhn said, "There are multiple ways into the city." He said the store would be a boon to Newport residents who can't drive or don't have a vehicle. He said that in the past, when Newport had several department stores and a large hotel in the 1940s, traffic was heavier than it is now. Bruhn said the proposed Derby site of WalMart would be "very unfortunate for downtown Newport" as it would draw people away from Newport and "will have a negative effect on other retailers in Derby." Bruhn made his pitch to the Newport City Council about two years ago, he said, and he received a rather cool reception at the time.I also sent the concept to WalMart but hasn't received much of a response yet.City Mayor Paul Monette said he's a firm believer in a WalMart "but not in downtown Newport." "I'm going to study these," he said of the conceptual drawings sent to him. "It's very interesting, but I don't see how it's going to work."City Manager John Ward Jr. declined to comment about the idea.Developer J.L. Davis, who is working on brining WalMart to Derby, had little good to say about the proposal."It's a cheap public relations ploy by Paul Bruhn," Davis said. "He did the same thing in St. Albans."Davis, a developer who stressed he doesn't personally represent WalMart, said Bruhn knows the location is not acceptable.Managing Editor Susan Davis contributed to this article.