Walmart responds to mayor’s concerns over plaza
Mayor presses for development at Tech Plaza shopping center
By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer
Walmart has no plans to reopen a shuttered store at 12 Mile and Van Dyke, a spokesman said, and while the company continues to honor its existing lease there, it would be happy to have something else occupy the former space.
The statement came after Warren Mayor Jim Fouts’ State of the City remarks on March 24, where the mayor used the podium to publicly blast the retail giant for a lingering lack of development at the Tech Plaza shopping center.
At issue is a vacant 128,000-square-foot anchor store previously occupied by Walmart , which in 2008 opened a newly built location at 14 Mile and Van Dyke, in Sterling Heights.
Fouts rolled out a string of buzz words including “garbage,” “gangs,” “rats,” and “prostitutes” when discussing the empty retail space at Tech Plaza, where he said Walmart still holds a lease. He suggested the company was attempting to thwart development out of concern over competition.
The vacant space, Fouts said, has hurt the rest of the plaza in the city’s Downtown Development Authority district, across the street from the General Motors Technical Center campus, and a few blocks from Warren’s City Hall.
“We have an empty eyesore. We have a crater that’s hurting the city of Warren,” Fouts said. “It’s stopping development in the central, the single most important part of our city.”
Fouts said he unsuccessfully attempted to set up a meeting with Walmart through the owners of the property. The plaza is owned by West Penn Realty and is represented by its leasing agent, J.J. Gumburg Co.
Should the situation go unresolved, Fouts said he would initiate nuisance abatement hearings targeting the property through the Warren City Council. He even threw out the idea of leading a “nationwide boycott” of Walmart if the company refused to come to the table.
Bill Wertz, director of community and media relations for Walmart , said company officials were unaware of any issues — including vandalism, graffiti or other things mentioned by Fouts — until they received a letter on March 25, the day after the mayor’s speech.
“I’m not sure exactly the origin of the mayor’s complaint, but there has been a certain degree of inaccuracy in some of the allegations that I’ve heard,” Wertz said. “We certainly are not standing in the way of having this store go to someone else. We signed a lease and we’re honoring that lease, but as you can probably imagine we’d be perfectly happy to have somebody else take over that space, since we’re not going to be occupying it ourselves.
“We’re not familiar with any of the vandalism, or any of the graffiti, or the criminal activity the mayor has referred to. It certainly has not been brought to our attention,” Wertz said.
While the company at some point may have planned to reopen, expand, or use the Tech Plaza property for something else, Wertz said that’s no longer the case.
Walmart moved 275 employees to Sterling Heights in 2008 and the space in Warren, on the west end of the plaza, was left empty.
Other big-name retailers to close shop at Tech Plaza included Sears Hardware and Office Depot. Only a handful of stores remain.
The shopping center opened in the 1960s. The entire parcel spans 28.21 acres, or 1.2 million square feet of land, near the city’s Civic Center and includes 291,505 square feet of building space, according to the city assessor’s office.
Robert Irr, of J.J. Gumburg, confirmed via email on March 28 that the ownership and representation of the property has remained unchanged for about 30 years. He did not address the mayor’s allegations, or the status of the lease with Walmart.
You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at firstname.lastname@example.org
or at (586)498-1089.
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It's your move, Mayor Fouts. Cut the rhetoric and initiate abatement hearings.