By Jeff Keeling
A long-neglected “big-box” retail center in south Johnson City may be about to enter, “the times that try liberals’ souls,” to plagiarize Thomas Paine.
The deal could still implode, but Walmart already has spent what to most folks is a good bit of money on drawings and other preliminaries for a “Neighborhood Market” it apparently plans to build on the site of the old Kmart at 1923 S. Roan St. For you newcomers, that vast blacktopped site – now home to a currently closed Arby’s, a liquor store and a smattering of other small businesses – once was home to a Kroger and a Kmart.
Those “anchor tenants” shuttered years ago, heading to greener pastures (and paving over them in the process). That left what is known as a “greyfield” – a term coined in this century for developed land that contains economically obsolescent, outdated, failing, moribund or underused real estate assets.
Folks of the leftish persuasion typically loathe greyfields. I’m not keen on them myself, and am happy to see this one on the verge of viable reuse. Walmart’s engineer submitted plans for a 42,556-square-foot store, with an accompanying “fuel station,” in late July.
It’s “a continuation of use,” considering the similar function to the former tenants, and according to Dave McLelland of the city’s Development Services Department, that’s a good way to redevelop a greyfield. The city and Walmart’s folks have been communicating back and forth as is usual in the development process, with the ball currently in Walmart’s court after the city requested Oct. 9 a few last things be addressed (the new building itself is approved).
Creation of any new impervious space, which impacts stormwater runoff, requires meeting codes in ways that protect the environment better but weren’t implemented when Kmart was developed on the site, so some additional stormwater infrastructure may need to go in. That’s a good thing, too.
Now for the rub, if you’re a virulent critic of Walmart (I’m not). The entity that’s set to redevelop your local neighborhood greyfield – a good thing – is according to some an evil corporation that represents all that is wrong with our society it destroys the environment and allows income inequality to widen. (Walmart does some pretty helpful stuff environmentally, is a huge contributor to Second Harvest Food Bank nationally and has been raising its minimum wage, but why let those details get in the way of a self-righteous narrative?)
Walmart is opening hundreds of Neighborhood Markets, including one in Kingsport that opened early this month. Moody’s Global Credit Research reported in June that, “traditional supermarkets will feel the pressure as Walmart moves to increase its already dominant share of the U.S. grocery segment.” Moody’s added that in the past, Walmart’s larger Supercenters usually take share from all other food retailers, and, “weaker operators” usually do not recover.
People, you can “Feel the Bern” and love a greyfield redevelopment. Can you still love it if it’s a Neighborhood Walmart? I can.