Wal-Mart has no plans for expansion just yet

— A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said Thursday her company has no plans to expand its Steamboat Springs store, nor to build a new "super center" here. But a city official has confirmed she had an informal contract with a third party investigating expansion possibilities for the nation's largest retailer.

Planning director Wendie Schulenburg said she has met with a firm that secures "entitlements," or development permits, for Wal-Mart.

"They are wanting to at least double in size, which probably will not be possible at their present site," Schulenburg said. "Their options are to redesign and try to accommodate on the existing site, which would be our preference, or look for a new parcel."

Wal-Mart opened its store in Central Park Plaza Sept. 30, 1992. It measures 57,197 square feet, small by today's standards for Wal-Marts. The new super centers Wal-Mart is building typically measure more than 120,000 square feet.

Schulenburg emphasized Wal-Mart has not submitted a formal application to the city, nor has she actually met with anyone from Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart Community Affairs Manager Daphne Davis said her company does work with a variety of Realtors and developers in some cases when it is in the preliminary phase of expansion of an existing store or construction of a new store. But her files indicate there are no plans for Steamboat Springs that have reached a level of formality that she could talk about.

Davis said conversations about expansion at Wal-Mart take place on two levels. One, very informal, is taking place almost continually.

"It's certainly not unusual at what we call our general merchandise stores," Davis said. "We're always looking at our current stores and asking ourselves if they meet the needs of the community. We're constantly involved in that process. It generally is our preference to expand (rather than build a new store to replace an old one) when we can."

Wal-Mart executives enter into a formal process any time they undertake to purchase real estate or consider construction, Davis said. That process has not begun in Steamboat, she added.

Davis confirmed Wal-Mart is in the process of converting or replacing about 200 of its existing stores with "super centers" that include grocery departments.

Wal-Mart's arrival in Steamboat generated a considerable amount of controversy in the late 1980s. Many local merchants were concerned the arrival of the giant discounter would undermine their businesses, and a lengthy series of sometimes vitriolic public hearings took place over a period of almost four years. At one point, Wal-Mart officials announced they were withdrawing from their effort to build a store in Steamboat.

When a group of local citizens insisted the city of Steamboat Springs allow a public vote on the fate of a Wal-Mart store here, the city contested that petition in court. The city's resistance was not tied to opposition to Wal-Mart. Instead, it opposed the idea of citizens voting on the fate of development permits.

Ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the city case after a District Court ruling and the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed the voters had the right to approve development permits such as the one necessary to build a Wal-Mart store here.

When the voters went to the polls for a special municipal election on June 11, 1991, 1,020, or 56 percent, voted in favor of issuing the permit and 787, or 44 percent, voted to "not issue the permit."

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