Walmart shows store plans

The public got a more detailed look at the planned Merrill Walmart super center during a neighborhood informational meeting Thursday at Merrill City Hall. Walmart representatives were on hand with drawings of the project site to gather public input and field questions about the proposed facility.
The meeting is a precursor to the company submitting site plans to the city for approval, said Lisa Nelson, senior manager of public affairs and government relations for Walmart.
“It’s great to see a lot of people with a lot of questions,” Nelson said.
Walmart is purchasing the property on the south side of Hwy. 64 from Park City Credit Union, which has retained a three-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Hwy. 64 and Pine Ridge Blvd to construct a new credit union. Park City Credit Union president Val Mindak said the credit union has no immediate plans to break ground on its new building.
Walmart moved into the current Merrill store in 1989. Unlike the current store, which is leased, Walmart will own the new building. Nelson said Walmart will assist in aggressively marketing the current 73,000-square-foot building to prospective new tenants.
“Walmart Realty has a great relationship with people who like to be in our old stores,” she said. The old store’s close proximity to the new super center will make it more attractive to new businesses, Nelson added.
The Walmart project will cover approximately 20 acres of land. The building will cover 120,000 square feet, with 40,000 square feet of that in grocery. The store is a new size and design for Walmart. The store is larger than Medford’s, but smaller than the Walmart centers in Antigo, Rhinelander or Rib Mountain. By comparison, the Rib Mountain store is 190,000 square feet.
“A lot goes into determining what size store fits the community,” Nelson said.
Merrill Walmart store manager Jim Schleicher said store management and employees aren’t making any plans for a move yet. In fact, he was getting his first look at drawings of the new store along with the rest of the public Thursday night.
The current Merrill Walmart store employs 132 people. The new store is expected to bring 80-100 new jobs. A greater selection of merchandise will also help Merrill shoppers to find what they need without having to head to Wausau, Schleicher noted.
Walmart will need to work with the Department of Transportation to determine the traffic impact of the proposed store. John Bieberitz, Walmart’s traffic engineer on the project, said traffic counts are already being done. The DOT is requiring analysis of not only the intersection at Hwy. 64 and Pine Ridge Boulevard, but also the intersections where Hwy. 64 meets Hwy. 17 and Big Eddy Road. If the DOT decides that road upgrades are needed to handle the anticipated traffic generated by the new store, Walmart would be responsible to pay for those improvements, Bieberitz said.
A southward extension of Pine Ridge Blvd will be built by Walmart to serve the new store, dead-ending short of Big Eddy Road. The extension would be built to city specifications and turned over to the city upon completion. Pine Ridge Blvd could be connected to Big Eddy Road based on future development, noted Brady Busselman, project engineer for Walmart, but that connection would be outside the scope of the Walmart project.
The project has been designed around an underground gas pipeline and an overhead electric transmission line that run through the property. Stormwater ponds would be built at the west end of the property to catch runoff from the building and parking lot.
Nelson said Walmart wants to get the project underway as soon as possible. After plans are approved, the project will be put out for bids. Walmart is hoping to open the new store next year, Nelson said.
Applications for employment will be accepted at the current location about six weeks before the new store opens.

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