Walmart-Empire Center rumors swirl

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Public reaction to news that Walmart may move into what is now the Great Indoors store next to the Empire Center has been swift and blistering, but Burbank officials say they have little to no control over the potential move.

Walmart has yet to announce plans for the site, which will be vacant next month after the Great Indoors closes, but already there’s been a swell of opposition on social media websites.

A “No Wal Mart in Burbank” page was created this week on Facebook, where commentators didn’t hold back their disdain for adding another mega-retailer at the center.

“For crying out loud! What sense does it make when there is a Target, a Costco and a Kmart within minutes of each other?” one user posted.

The reaction among shoppers at the Empire Center this week was more mixed, with some welcoming the bargain prices Walmart is known for, even if it meant more traffic.

“I've kind of been waiting for a Walmart,” said LaWanda Geary, 69. “I don't want to have to drive all over the county just to get to Walmart, and I don't think it's going to hurt the center here.”

But in the end, the hue and cry may have little impact.

The 12-acre site, purchased last month by Walmart Real Estate Business Trust, is zoned for commercial use. Changing that zoning would require a mutual agreement between the city and property owner, said Joy Forbes, Burbank deputy city manager.

Walmart would simply need to pull a few permits for a project to proceed, she added.

Walmart representatives have declined to say what they’re planning for the space, and it is unclear whether the company will seek to build a supercenter or a smaller store.

“They could use the whole site or break out the site with different tenant spaces,” Forbes said. “We have no idea.”

The Empire Center is already home to several big-box stores,” such as Target, Best Buy and Marshalls.

“Our biggest concern is to make sure [Walmart] doesn’t compete with other existing businesses which are also doing their part to generate revenues,” she said. “But competition is good.”

Stacey Lentz, a spokeswoman for Lowe’s, said the home improvement retailer often operates near competitors, even Walmart. However, large centers such as Lowe’s and Home Depot comprise only 25% of the home-improvement market, she added. The rest is made up of smaller businesses, such as flooring stores and lighting galleries.

“In this situation, the customer ultimately wins because it keeps us on our toes,” she said. “We don’t focus on competition. We focus on customers.”

The Marshalls and T.J.Maxx stores in the Empire Center don’t plan any changes, according to Doreen Thompson, vice president of corporate communications for The TJX Companies Inc., parent company of both retailers.

“The entire retail industry is extremely competitive,” she said in a statement. “We remain focused on the execution of our excellent, off-price business model and believe that we will achieve our goals by maintaining this focus.”

Target issued a statement Tuesday that it’s confident in its competitiveness in the Burbank market.

As for the public, there may be no formal hearings on any upcoming Walmart project, but residents can always voice their opinions at Burbank City Council meetings, even if the city’s hands are largely tied, Forbes said.

“We feel bad when the council’s hands are tied,” she said.

 
 

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