We bulldozed the trees for a Walmart Supercenter. It's closing. Let's tear it down for soccer fields.
January 16, 2016
The former Walmart on Roxboro Road. Archival photo from Loopnet.com
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.
..and now there's a rezoning for yet another big box grocery store at Guess and Latta when there's half a dozen other grocery stores nearby. I hope the City Council understands the word, "no."
Posted by: Will Wilson | January 16, 2016 at 01:47 PM
Note: I am pretty sure the Roxboro Rd walmart location is now the TROSA thrift store. Rainbow clothing is in the space next door to the former walmart there.
I agree completely with your post and hope something vibrant can take over the MLK walmart space that will be an asset to the neighborhood!
Posted by: Emily | January 16, 2016 at 01:47 PM
Thanks, Emily, for the correction. I'm glad that TROSA is there!
Posted by: Lisa Sorg | January 16, 2016 at 03:51 PM
My vote is for the following
An aquatic center (see what woodmen of world did in Kinston, nc)
An ice plex/indoor soccer complex
Other family friendly opportunities ....
Posted by: MG | January 16, 2016 at 04:00 PM
We used to live right near there when that Walmart was put in. What a travesty. One could imagine you soccer fields suggestion with a trail link to Southern Boundaries park through the remaining woods/green space back there.
Posted by: jeff | January 16, 2016 at 05:25 PM
Once there were parking lots,
Now it's a peaceful oasis.
This was a Pizza Hut,
Now it's all covered with daisies.
- Talking Heads, "Flowers"
Posted by: Nathan | January 16, 2016 at 07:25 PM
A soccer facility would be great. An aquatic center would be great. But who do we think is going to pay for these things? I can't imagine the property owner just tearing down a building he spent many millions of dollars to construct just because we want to use his land for our purposes.
Posted by: EB | January 16, 2016 at 11:52 PM
How about making the building into a library or something useful for the community!
Posted by: Sande | January 17, 2016 at 10:00 AM
In Roxboro, Person County took over a Walmart and converted it to a Human Services facility housing Social Services, the Health Dep. Home Health & Hospice, and Freedom House. It was a great improvement over the county's previous facilities.
Posted by: Elaine Wilkerson | January 17, 2016 at 08:03 PM
One problem with the buildings be re-used by other retailers is deed restrictions. Here's a story from the Detroit Free Press about property taxes, but it mentions the deed restrictions problem half way down:
The owner of the building is Wal-Mart Stores East LP, a Wal-Mart subsidiary-- http://property.spatialest.com/nc/durham/property/146337/card/1
I don't think they'll ever sell it to anyone who remotely competes with Wal-Mart in any capacity, and it's quite a weird shape to subdivide (subdivided units would be incredibly deep). But, I don't think Wal-Mart would ever plan on giving the city a sweetheart deal on it. As long as the property tax bill each year ($74k a year) is less than what the store was losing, then they'll probably just keep it vacant.
Posted by: Rob G | January 18, 2016 at 07:23 AM
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
"My name is Walmart, Store of Stores;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level lot stretches far away.
Posted by: So3426 | January 19, 2016 at 02:37 PM
Rainbow is in the former Burlington Coat Factory, and TROSA is in the old Walmart. Why don't you know this?
Posted by: RSMilward | January 23, 2016 at 09:30 PM
RSMilward: The address for both is the same, 3500 N. Roxboro, but I got the suite numbers wrong. It's a minor error that has been corrected.
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Posted by: Lisa Sorg | January 24, 2016 at 10:17 AM
Are you being ironic, satirical, or maybe even serious?
Posted by: Paolo Shirazi | November 19, 2016 at 12:37 PM