State

Atwater awaits its Wal-Mart

ATWATER — This city used to send its residents to Merced and Turlock for their shopping trips.

Now it will have a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a follow-up to the recent openings of a Super Target and a Mi Pueblo.

Construction started earlier this month on the store, which is expected to create 300 full-time and part-time jobs, said Amelia Neufeld, Wal-Mart's senior manager of public affairs. A local hiring center will be opened about two months before the opening of the store.

The 124,500-square-foot store being built on 11 acres at 800 Commerce Ave. will generate about 100 construction- related jobs until the store is completed, Neufeld said.

The project's general contractor is Shames Construction, which hired Phase 1 Construction and Pacific Concrete Specialties, both of Atwater, and Titan Surveying and Mapping of Oakdale.

Shames will hire more subcontractors as the construction progresses, Neufeld said. Work is in the first phase, which is surveying, cutting and grading the dirt.

Once finished, about 12 months from now, the supercenter will have a grocery, bakery, deli and pharmacy, and departments for electronics, garden and household items.

The decision to locate in Atwater was made because of the positive response from customers who shop at the Wal-Mart in Merced, Neufeld said.

City officials were helpful bringing Wal-Mart to Atwater, she said.

The addition of the store is in line with the City Council's goal of economic development, said City Manager Greg Wellman.

"In these economic times, you can't turn a blind eye to 300 jobs," he said.

In addition to jobs, the potential tax revenue from another big-box store was a strong incentive for the city to bring in Wal-Mart.

"We did this thing in record time," Wellman said. "From the point they submitted their building permit and their plans, it was 26 work days and they had their building permit."

The city has made strides to turn Atwater into a business-friendly city, said Charlie Woods, community development director.

All the City Council work — such as parking and traffic analysis — was done before Wal-Mart deciding to build there, he said. All the giant retailer needed was a building permit.

Woods expects Wal-Mart to fit in well with the local economy and community.

After fighting to keep a Wal-Mart out of Turlock and helping to bring one to Ceres while working for those cities, he has acquired a lot of experience with how the stores affect various economic climates.

"The city's role was to develop a plan that was as business friendly as you could get," Woods said.

The new Wal-Mart will be next to the Super Target.

Wal-Mart welcomes the competitive environment, Neufeld said.

"It benefits the customers because they have choices about where they want to shop, and ultimately it makes us better merchants," she said.

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