Talks are continuing between Wal-Mart and the city of Lodi. It's just not clear what they'll lead to, if anything.
Representatives from both sides confirmed Friday they've had recent discussions about the proposed and long-delayed 226,000-square-foot Supercenter.
A lack of information about the project has caused residents, business leaders and even some city officials in recent months to wonder about its future.
The project was scheduled this spring for a review by the Lodi Planning Commission. Unexplained delays, however, have pushed that vote and an eventual City Council vote back indefinitely.
If approved, the retail and grocery complex would anchor the 13-store Lodi Shopping Center at Kettleman Lane and Lower Sacramento Road. It would be one of the Lodi's largest-ever commercial centers.
Wal-Mart spokesman Aaron Rios said his company has not put the Supercenter plans on hold. It is, however, reassessing higher construction costs for the project and continuing to negotiate with the city about several conditions that will be required for approval, he said.
He declined to say how much it will cost to build the Supercenter.
"We're not dormant … we have a genuine interest in Lodi and we're doing everything we can to make this work," Rios said.
Despite the recent talks, which took place between Lodi City Manager Blair King and Rios this week, there is still no timeline for a City Council vote on the Supercenter.
Net sales for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.Wal-Mart reported in May that net sales reached $94.1 billion for the first quarter of the 2009 fiscal year, up 10.2 percent from the same period last year. That covered February, March and April of this year.
Net sales for May and June were also up. They spiked 7.8 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively.
A company press release reported the following: "We're off to a solid start, with record first quarter sales and earnings," said Lee Scott, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. president and chief executive officer. "We continue to deliver against the business model that Sam Walton started - selling branded merchandise for less. Our business is even more relevant to our customers today, given the current economic pressures."
Source: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
The council's February 2005 approval of the project was overturned 10 months later by a San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge, who ruled environmental reports for the project were insufficient.
King stressed that city conditions are not standing in the way of the project. Based on his talks with Wal-Mart officials, he said company expansion plans - not factors in Lodi - will determine whether the project goes forward.
"It's a corporate decision based upon profitability," he said. "That's what I understand the issue to be."
A look at Wal-Mart's recent economic numbers shows the retail giant has thrived of late.
The company reported in May that net sales reached $94.1 billion for the first quarter of the 2009 fiscal year, up 10.2 percent from the same period last year.
That trend is reflected in Lodi, where sales at the existing Wal-Mart are "exceeding expectations," Rios said.
A trend that hasn't been so positive for the company is the string of delays for proposed Supercenters across California.
Rios, who represents the Central Valley for the company, noted he is no longer speaking with several cities because their Supercenter plans are on hold indefinitely. He declined to name those cities.
Stockton land-use attorney Steve Herum noted earlier this month that Supercenters in Clovis, Chico and Selma have experienced similar delays as the Lodi project.
Herum filed the 2005 lawsuit that eventually negated the Lodi Supercenter's approval. He represented a group called Lodi First.
Plans for a 132,000-square-foot Wal-Mart in Galt are moving forward, Rios noted. That project, proposed for Twin Cities Road at Fermoy Way, is undergoing an environmental review.
It's expected to be up for a vote by late this year or early 2009.
When it does, however, it won't be without controversy.
Several Galt City Council members and potential neighbors of the store have complained the Wal-Mart will literally back up to the Emerald Village Senior Community, creating unwanted noise and traffic issues.
King, the Lodi city manager, said the city's conditions for approval have not changed in recent years. Officials have long maintained that Wal-Mart must compensate Lodi for the Supercenter's future draw on business Downtown. They've also insisted the project's developer, Darryl Browman, find a tenant for the existing Wal-Mart or pay for the demolition of that building.
Additionally, the city has required the project compensate for the loss of agricultural land that will be paved over during construction.
Negotiations regarding those conditions are ongoing, Rios said, and do factor into the company's decision-making.
Lodi spokesman Jeff Hood said the city does have a "tentative" version of the final environmental report for the project. He said, however, that without a clear indication from Wal-Mart on whether the company will go forward with the project, it has decided not to release the documents to the public.
"We're waiting for Wal-Mart," Hood said.