Battle won, Wal-Mart gets to work in Arlington

  • Mon Jan 25th, 2010 1:43pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

ARLINGTON — The opening of a new Wal-Mart store on 172nd Street NE could bring more traffic woes to an already beleaguered stretch of highway. It also means new jobs, another place to shop and sales tax revenue for the city of Arlington.

Construction of a 154,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter is scheduled to begin today in the city’s Smokey Point neighborhood.

Company officials expect the retail store to open as soon as October and employ about 300 people.

The $8 million store is being built east of I-5 at 43rd Avenue NE, off state Highway 531, also known as 172nd Street NE.

Land-use permits for the store were obtained years ago, but Wal-Mart’s plans to build laid dormant until last week, city officials said.

In fact, the first hint that Wal-Mart finally was following through with construction came recently when a city employee saw a pharmacy job for the Smokey Point store advertised on Craigslist.com.

It has been nearly six years since Wal-Mart first floated the idea for the store.

At the time, the Arkansas-based chain also proposed building Wal-Mart stores in Stanwood and Mill Creek. The company later abandoned those proposals, in part because of strong opposition in those cities.

In 2006, a group of Wal-Mart opponents called Arlington-Smokey Point Community Matters appealed an Arlington City Council’s decision to allow the store. The Snohomish County Superior Court lawsuit brought by the group was dropped three years ago, and the company continued with its plans.

“Arlington is, we think, going to be a great place for us,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karianne Fallow.

The Smokey Point Wal-Mart will be similar to the one that just opened in Mount Vernon, city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said. The other nearest Wal-Mart is at the Tulalip Quil Ceda Village.

Of the 8.5 percent sales tax collected in Arlington, the city receives 1 percentage point.

“We don’t know yet what that sales tax revenue from Wal-Mart might mean for the city,” Banfield said. “But every bit helps.”

The prospect of a new store attracting lots of customers also underscores the city’s efforts to get help with traffic problems on Highway 531, she said.

“We are being very aggressive with the state (Department of Transportation) and our state lawmakers,” she said. “This has to be a high-priority project.”

Highway 531, which links I-5 and Highway 9, is the focus of a plan to ease growing traffic congestion in north Marysville and south Arlington, state transportation officials have said. The plan includes the construction of roundabouts at several of the intersections, as well as a raised median to manage left turns on the road. No state funding has been allocated.

In order to build the new store, Wal-Mart had to help pay for the traffic signal at 43rd Avenue NE. The store will face east and front an extension of the street, paid for by Wal-Mart, Banfield said.

City officials don’t believe that the new Wal-Mart store will harm existing small businesses in the city.

“Local business people have been really upping their game and offering customer service you don’t find other places,” Banfield said.

The contractor for the Smokey Point Wal-Mart is Engineered Structures Inc. of Boise, Idaho.

Wal-Mart has 31 superstores and 18 discount stores in Washington. Those stores employ nearly 18,000 people who are paid an average of $12.30 an hour, according to the Wal-Mart Web site.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427, gfiege@heraldnet.com.