By Matthew Bunk
Fairfield Daily Republic
SUISUN CITY - Wal-Mart has targeted the outskirts of Suisun City as a prime place for a supercenter, and city officials say it's about time.
Unlike some other cities fighting to keep out big-box stores such as Wal-Mart, financially strapped Suisun City welcomed the world's largest retailer during a highly orchestrated press conference Tuesday morning at City Hall.
A handful of city officials, citizens and Wal-Mart representatives answered questions about the economic impacts of such a large development in a small town and the financial viability of building a Wal-Mart Supercenter so close to the site of another proposed supercenter on North Texas Street in Fairfield. The two supercenters would be less than 3 miles apart.
"It comes down to customer demand," Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Loscotoff said. "We feel there's enough demand to support two supercenters in these communities."
A typical Wal-Mart Supercenter has a full grocery department, an expanded gardening department and an automobile service center, as well as dozens of departments of discount items. Most are around 200,000 square feet.
Wal-Mart last year told Fairfield about its plan to open a supercenter at Mission Village shopping center, and a few months later announced the pending closure of its store on Chadbourne Road.
All along, company officials left open the possibility of opening a second supercenter in the area.
Mayor Jim Spering said Suisun City desperately needs the sales tax boost that would come from building a Wal-Mart Supercenter the size of four football fields on windswept grassland between Suisun and Fairfield. "This project will provide the revenue to meet demands without raising taxes," he said.
Wal-Mart's interest in Suisun City is only one part of a larger development project in the works for the past 20 years. City planners anticipate building homes and retail facilities on 172 acres of land northwest of city limits, with Wal-Mart anchoring the commercial portion.
The so-called Gentry Project would devote 650,000 square feet of building space for small shops, large retailers and restaurants, but no other tenants were named Tuesday. The other half of the mixed-use project would be a residential subdivision for 359 homes.
Before breaking ground, however, the city must go through a lengthy approval process that includes annexing land now under Solano County's control. It could take about a year to cut through the red tape and developers probably won't begin construction until 2007, according to city estimates.
Many Suisun residents leave the city to shop, which cuts into sales-tax revenue and limits city funds for police and fire protection and a host of other community services. Just last year the Suisun City police department laid off nearly one-third of its officers and many city streets are in disrepair, officials said.
Wal-Mart could make a big impact in Suisun, where 28,000 people live but most shop in neighboring cities, 25-year-old Suisun resident Bridgette Nelson said.
"We've needed more shopping in Suisun for a very long time," she said. "Now I don't have to leave town to get the goods I need."
Every year, Suisun City loses more than 70 percent of potential sales tax revenue to other communities due to the lack of retail options in town, according to the 2004 California Retail Survey. Spering estimated the city's yearly sales tax intake of roughly $800,000 would double once the Wal-Mart opens for business two or three years from now.
Each Wal-Mart Supercenter has about 400 workers, so Wal-Mart would become the largest non-government employer in Suisun City. Right now grocers Albertsons and Raley's are the city's largest employers, each with about 100 workers.
Wal-Mart's impact on small businesses has become an issue across the country, but Spering said a Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town shouldn't hurt businesses downtown or those along Highway 12 and Sunset Avenue. He drew a comparison to Fairfield's plan to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter in a business district surrounded by small retailers, a Kmart and grocery stores.
"Proximity to other businesses is the real issue. It's not like we're putting this downtown or in a competing business district," he said. "It's on the fringe of the city, so we only expect it to benefit existing businesses."
Reach Matthew Bunk at 425-4646 Ext. 267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project Facts and Figures
-- Highland Development and Silverwing Development are in contract to develop a portion of the Gentry Property between Highway 12 and Cordelia Road at Pennsylvania Avenue and are working with Suisun City officials to annex the site into the City.
-- Approximately 172 acres will be annexed by Suisun City, but the proposed project will only cover about 51 percent of that acreage, with the remainder reserved for open space and wetlands.
-- Approximately 359 housing units are planned to be built on approximately 17 acres by Silverwing Development.
-- Highland Development's 650,000-square-foot retail center is planned on about 71 acres.
-- Suisun City has the lowest sales tax revenue of any Solano County community, as well as one of the lowest per-capita sales tax revenue rates in California.