Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Suisun City lauds plans as 'super'

Wal-Mart Supercenter is part of a development project that also includes 359 new homes.

By Barbara Smith
Vacaville Reporter Business Writer

A major housing and retail development anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter is proposed for Suisun City - a project city officials are lauding as the beginning of the end of the waterfront town's money troubles.

Described as a "gateway" location with a regional draw, the project would be built on about 170 acres of unincorporated land known as the Gentry property at Highway 12 and Pennsylvania Avenue.

San Mateo-based Highland Development proposes to build roughly 650,000 square feet of retail space. Concord-based Silverwing Development plans a residential community of 359 single-family homes on about 17 acres.

The developers hope to break ground in 2007, but the land must be annexed into the city and the proposals run through the mandated process, including public review.

That lengthy process didn't diminish Suisun City Mayor Jim Spering's celebratory mood Tuesday as he announced the deal.

Spering said the state budget crisis has had an impact on his city. The retail center with Wal-Mart and accessory retailers will provide in coming years the funding the city needs.

"This project has been in our general plan for more than 20 years, and is finally becoming a reality," a beaming Spering said to business and civic leaders in a crowded council chamber.

The retail center is expected to more than double sales tax revenues for city coffers, said Randy Starbuck, the city's economic development director. Suisun City now collects roughly $800,000 a year sales taxes at point of sale, Starbuck said.

The basic statewide sales-and-use tax (7.25 percent) is divided between the state, local transportation fund, and local jurisdictions. According to the state Board of Equalization, Suisun City has the lowest sales tax revenue of any Solano County city, as well as one of the lowest per-capita sales tax revenue rates in the state.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., announced in October 2004 an aggressive expansion plan involving up to 45 of its flagship discount stores and will wind up with 240 to 250 supercenters in the United States by the company's next fiscal year, Feb. 1.

Wal-Mart often is targeted by community groups and smaller businesses opposed to the huge retailer being in their town. One such example is in American Canyon. A controversial supercenter is moving forward
there despite continued opposition including lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the company plans to expand its 100,000-square-foot store in Dixon into a supercenter in early 2006. In Fairfield, a proposal to build a supercenter in the mostly-vacant Mission Village Shopping Center on North Texas Street is undergoing review, as well as opposition from the community.

But in Suisun City, Spering and Police Chief Ron Forsythe consider such a store a veritable windfall.

Budget cuts have eliminated six of 28 positions in the police department, and some officers are working 20 hours a day, said Forsythe.

Also, Suisun City needs a second fire station, he said.

"We've all (been told) to hang in there a little bit longer and wait for the better tomorrow," Forsythe said. "The better tomorrow is finally coming."

Sean Quinn, Fairfield's director of planning and development, said two Wal-Marts in adjoining cities can probably be supported, but there will be impacts.

David Sommer, president and chief executive officer of the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce, said such a large project will be not just an exciting boost for Suisun City, but for the region.

"This is a great opportunity for our city to get ahead of the game," Sommer said.

Kevin Loscotoff, regional manager of community affairs for Wal-Mart, said the 185,000 square-foot supercenter will create more than 400 jobs. He said the supercenter in Stockton is the first and so far only supercenter operating in Northern California. The store recruited to fill 500 positions, but received about 3,500 applications, Loscotoff said.

"These are valuable jobs that are desired out in the community, and fulfill a real need," he said.

Barbara Smith can be reached at

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