New Walmart brings jobs, convenience, tax revenue to Chatham

Jun. 12, 2013 @ 05:52 PM

With much fanfare Wednesday, the new and much-discussed Walmart opened in Chatham County, bringing jobs, convenience and new tax revenue to a county starved for all three.

Located on 20 acres of a 62-acre site off U.S. 15-501, south of the Orange County line, the opening of the 148,000 square foot store drew hundreds of people, some of whom arrived well in advance of a 7:30 a.m., ribbon cutting for a chance to shop at the new store.

“We had a fantastic turnout,” said Anthony Soto, district manager for Durham area stores, noting that the store is still looking to hire good people.

When fully staffed, the store is expected to employ more than 200 people, bringing needed jobs to the largely rural county.

“Hopefully, this will keep people close by home,” said Chatham County Commissioner Chairman Walter Petty.

He said too many Chatham residents are forced to work outside the county because there are not enough jobs.

In addition, Petty said, residents who work in neighboring counties often do their shopping in those counties, which costs Chatham thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue each year.

That will change with the addition of the new Walmart, Petty said.

“We’re expecting a big bump in tax revenue and that will help out a lot,” he said.

Petty estimates the tax revenue generated by Walmart will amount to $500,000 or $600,000 annually.

“That’s going to be a big deal,” Petty said.

For the folks shopping Wednesday, the Walmart is already a big deal, and some were already acutely aware of the benefits of having the store in Chatham County.

“It’s great,” said Chuck Devinny of Pittsboro, who was doing some morning grocery shopping with his wife, Sue. “It’s going to bring some tax dollars to Chatham County for a change.”

Janet McFarland, who lives on Smith Level Road near the store but on the Orange County side, touted the convenience of having a major retailer nearby.

“It’s close, and I don’t have to drive across town now,” McFarland said.

Before the store opened Wednesday, McFarland said, she would drive to Chapel Hill, Durham and even to Mebane to shop.

Shalena Pugh, a Chapel Hill resident, was also excited about having a Walmart close by.

“I won’t have to go anywhere else,” said Pugh, who intends to become a frequent shopper.

Long before its doors opened for business on Wednesday, the new Walmart has been at the center of an ongoing debate in neighboring Chapel Hill where elected officials are looking for ways to expand the town’s commercial tax base, a move that would shift some of the tax burden from homeowners.

Also at the heart of that discussion is a proposed mixed-use development near the new Walmart called Obey Creek.

Developer Roger Perry hopes Obey Creek with its retail, office and apartments will help stem the flow of retail customers, dollars and tax revenue out of Chapel Hill.

Plans call for 725,000 square feet of office and retail space, a hotel and 600 housing units on the 120-acre tract, 70 percent of which would remain undeveloped.

But some residents have been critical of the project, which would be about double the size of University Mall when completed.

Residents say the project is too dense, proposed for a site too ecologically sensitive, would crowd schools and bring too much traffic to already crowded U.S. 15-501.

Meanwhile, Perry has argued that heavy traffic is coming regardless of whether Obey Creek is built because of the new Walmart and other such projects going up just across the line in Chatham.

Perry believes road and transit improvements can alleviate traffic problems brought on by development in the area.

The town is currently considering a development agreement with Perry’s firm, East West Partners, to allow Obey Creek to be built.

A development agreement is a long-term contract between the town and a property owner that dictates the standards and conditions under which development will take place on a site.

The town entered into its first development agreement in 2009 with UNC to allow the university to build a research satellite campus off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, called Carolina North.

However, that project has stalled in the wake of the recent financial crisis, which dried up funding.