Wal-Mart seals deal
Retailer pays $2.8 million for NAF land

By Thomas Wilson


   Wal-Mart owns North America -- at least a large chunk of its real property.
   The corporation officially added another piece of earth to its retail empire on Thursday by paying more than $2.8 million for a 24.57-acre tract on the North American Rayon Corp. (NARC) campus to develop a Wal-Mart Supercenter.
   "I think, definitely, there's a difference of opinion on the Supercenter, but I think the city will benefit substantially in the increase in property tax and payroll taxes," said Charles Green, president of North American Fibers (NAF), which was listed along with North American Research, as the two property owners on the deed. "I really see this being a positive move in making up for some revenue that has been lost over the years."
   The real estate sale was recorded Thursday at the Carter County Register of Deeds office. The sale comes one week after the end of a public comment period on the "Brownfields Agreement" signed between Wal-Mart and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). The "Brownfields" program pertains to the expansion or redevelopment of real property potentially complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous pollutant or contaminant.
   The city's Planning and Development Department has been reviewing building plans for the Supercenter development. The site plan includes a building of 205,000 square feet.
   "We have approved their construction drawing and once we have received the revised site plan, we issue a building permit," said David Ornduff, city director of Planning and Development.
   Local residents and regional businesses -- particularly grocery store chains -- expressed dismay about the Supercenter development to the Elizabethton City Council in February.
   The portion of the NARC facility to be included under the Brownfields Agreement includes the existing warehouse building, a former cafeteria, and a former guard hut.
   Wal-Mart's site plan calls for the demolition of the existing NARC warehouse that burned for three days after a massive fire broke out on Feb. 25, 2000, causing millions of dollars in damage. The fire erupted again one week after firefighters thought the blaze was extinguished. Green said his company planned to build a new state-of-the-art distribution facility on a nearby tract.
   Commercial development around the North American campus may just be starting. Green said he had talked to investors in Knoxville who had expressed interest in developing retail shops -- including "sit-down restaurants -- on property adjacent to the Wal-Mart Supercenter development.
   He said a major concern expressed about the property was the single access point on West Elk Avenue for motorists. The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission approved by 5-2 the Wal-Mart Supercenter site plan on Feb. 4, 2002. The approved plan did not include a street curb cut on West Elk Avenue as requested by the property management company representing Wal-Mart.
   Green said he was not opposed to the city's plan of developing an access road system running parallel to West Elk Avenue. He added that he would be willing to construct an access road system on the NARC property to link up with a possible access road.
   "I'm willing to put in an access road on the property I own, but I have no control on the property I don't own," he said.
   Supercenters average between 100,000 and 210,000 square feet of retail space and usually employ between 200 and 550 sales associates, according to the company.
   The Elizabethton site is one of scores of Supercenter developments planned by the company this year. According to the company's fiscal year growth plan that began Feb. 1, 2003, Wal-Mart aims to open approximately 45 to 55 new discount stores and 200 to 210 new Supercenters domestically this year.