We bulldozed the trees for a Walmart Supercenter. It's closing. Let's tear it down for soccer fields.
Once upon a time, 1010 Martin Luther King Parkway was a dense pine forest. Then, in 2010, the bulldozers and steam shovels and Bobcats arrived, uprooting the trees and scraping the 13 acres of land clean for a mega-parking lot and a 109,000-square-foot Walmart.
Well, a little more than four years after the Walmart Supercenter opened, it is on the list of 269 closures, 17 of them in North Carolina and half of them in the U.S. And when Walmarts close, they tend to lie vacant because they are so large it's hard to find a business that will take them over.
In fact, if you search for "former Walmart for sale," you'll find dozens of vacant super carcasses bringing down a neighborhood. Any time a big box store or other gargantuan building, such as a car dealership, closes and remains empty—its vast asphalt parking lot another reminder of the desolation — it brings down the entire neighborhood. Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard is lined with such blankness. The Shoppes at Lakewood, Heritage Square, areas near Miami Boulevard.
So what now, MLK Parkway? The land has been appraised at $2.6 million, the building another $5 million, according to county tax records. Sometimes a new retailer will come in. In 2009, Walmart closed its 119,213-square-foot store at 3500 N. Roxboro Road, only to open a new store five miles away on Glenn Road. The Roxboro Road location lay fallow until Rainbow Shops, a discount clothier, eventually opened there.
I'd like to see more creative solutions. Some old Walmarts become churches or schools. In Austin, Minnesota, a renovated Kmart became a Spam museum. McAllen, Texas, turned one of its abandoned Walmarts into a public library. Locally, in Chapel Hill, a closed Borders bookstore became a UNC Health Center. Affordable housing would be nice, except there are few windows in these stores.
Maybe we don't need a building at all. Let's dream a little. How about if we tear down the Walmart and install soccer fields? Urban gardens? Green space that is for unstructured play? Let's break free of the indoors, of commerce, of privatized spaces. The pine forest is gone, but let's give nature a chance.