Divided over Walmart Supercenter: Proposed retail operation gets mixed reviews from Morningside area

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PITTSFIELD — Those against a Walmart Supercenter say it will hurt small businesses, create unwanted traffic and is unnecessary.

The pro-crowd see the proposed retail complex attracting new businesses, providing more shopping options for the Morningside neighborhood and bringing jobs closer to area's workforce.

Based on a small sample size, those living and working in the area of the William Stanley Business Park seem divided on the giant retailer relocating from Hubbard Avenue to a section of the park on Woodlawn Avenue.

The mixed reaction came at Monday night's forum hosted by ward councilors Kevin Morandi and Lisa Tully at Morningside Community School.

For more than two hours, representatives of Waterstone Retail Development outlined the project — yet to be formally presented to the city for approval — and answered questions from those for and against the development.

Denise Demick sees the estimated $30 million, 190,000-square-foot retail store as an economic catalyst.

"In East Greenbush [N.Y.], they built a supercenter ... and other businesses grew up around it," she said.

Dave, who wouldn't give his last name, countered with Walmart being the death knell for local store owners.

"They take businesses out," he said. "They kill a community. They've done it before and they will do it now."

In June, Waterstone signed a letter of intent with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to negotiate a purchase and sales agreement to use the teens site for what would be called Woodlawn Crossing. PEDA is the quasi-public agency charged with the 52-acre Stanley Business Park's development. The Needham-based firm would eventually morph what would be called Woodlawn crossing into a mixed-use development

Walmart has operated a store in the Berkshire Crossing Shopping Center on Hubbard Avenue in Pittsfield since 1995 that was recently remodeled. The 200 employees would be augmented by another 80-100 workers, mostly to operate the grocery section of the new store.

Waterstone officials said this would fill a need in an area they called a food desert, or lacking a full service supermarket.

One unidentified woman disputed the food desert label.

"None of us are starving. We call all get our groceries," she said.

"There are people starving in the Morningside neighborhood," refuted Gail Krumpholz of the Morningside Initiative. "There is a huge low-income factor in this neighborhood ... and it's a proven fact we are in a food desert."

The developer also noted the larger store means more product variety that will keep local loyal Walmart shoppers from seeking out their supercenters in other communities.

"Not only are you giving thousands of dollars to another town, you're giving to another state," said project consultant Al Maiorino of Boston-based Public Strategy Group.

Several worried the new Wal-Mart would increase traffic on residential streets. Waterstone, the second largest real estate owner in New England, claims the store will take advantage of existing traffic patterns of many consumers already headed for Berkshire Crossing, Wal-Mart's current home, or other shopping areas to the north and east of the area.

"If nothing happens here, the traffic pattern remains the same," said Waterstone Principal Anton Malchionda.

He did note, the company would pick up the tab for all the engineering and construction costs to improve the intersections around the site.

The majority of the positions at the proposed Walmart Supercenter would be full-time, which at Walmart means at least 34 hours per week, project officials said. In Massachusetts, the hourly wage for full-time Walmart employees, excluding new workers, is $14.69, project officials have said. Benefits for Walmart employees also include access to a 401(k) plan.

The developer realizes many in Pittsfield want to see jobs that pay better move into the William Stanley Business Park, but the site — mainly due to environmental issues — is best suited for retail.

"Don't you think I would like to stand up here and offer a manufacturing company with union wages?" Malchionda said. "I would be a hero."

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233


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