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Wal-Mart cancels plans for Saranac Lake store

Wal-Mart has canceled plans to develop a 120,000 square foot store in Saranac Lake. The project faced stiff opposition from some locals. A village election this spring was driven largely by pro- and anti-Wal-Mart groups. A Democratic Party slate won the election and slowed plans to sell a parcel of village-owned property to the corporation.

Chris Knight's coverage of these developments for WNBZ radio can be read by clicking

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Six months after it was first announced, Wal-Mart has dropped its plan to build a 121,000 square foot supercenter on Lake Flower Avenue in Saranac Lake.

The company has terminated agreements to purchase the former Stanley Chevrolet and Carcuzzi Car Care Center properties. 

The news was first reported Friday evening on the website of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.  Wal-Mart spokesman Philip Serghini, who has yet to return calls from WNBZ, told the newspaper the deal was "dead."

The mega-retailer had announced plans in February to locate on the Stanley and Carcuzzi parcels and the 10-acre village-owned sand lot.  It was the only area of the village Wal-Mart was willing to look at.

But the village needed to rezone its property to allow for commercial development and put it up for sale.  In June a narrow majority of the village board voted against continuing the SEQR process necessary to complete the rezoning, which began under a previous board.

Bob Bevilaqua, owner of Carcuzzi, said Friday that Wal-Mart could see the writing on the wall.  He got the news that the deal was over in a letter that came on Wednesday.  "They decided they aren't going to fight it anymore," he said.  "They sent us a letter saying they're going to terminate our contract.  The final verse said 'its unfortunate the political climate in Saranac Lake is such that we cannot complete this agreement."

Randy Stanley reportedly received the same letter this week.

Bevilacqua blamed the village board's not rezoning the sandpit for Wal-Mart's decision to pull out. "It's very shortsighted on the board's part not to rezone that property.  It makes no sense to use that property for anything other than commercial.  It makes me wonder who the board is working for, because they're obviously not working for the average people."

Village Mayor Tom Michael, however, said the village didn't necessarily stop the rezoning.  It just halted the process until the impacts of such a decision could be better understood - something that's still on the agenda, Michael said. "We spent a little time as a board to figure out what impacts we thought should be assessed," he said. "That's where we're headed now.  It's going to be a long process and we're still going to continue in that direction."

The mayor said the village could market the sand lot property by hiring a real estate agent with national contacts to seek interested buyers. 

He said the community "absolutely" needs a retailer and a first-class grocery store chain.  "We are working on this constantly," Michael said.

Opponents of the 121,000 supercenter proposed by Wal-Mart greeted Friday's news that the deal was off the table with some skepticism.

Mark Kurtz recalled what Wal-Mart said when the village board halted the sand lot rezoning process in June.  The company said the decision had "effectively prohibited" them from locating in Saranac Lake.

But within a few weeks Wal-Mart launched a public relations campaign for the store by paying for signs for its local supporters and helping organize their efforts.

For those reasons, Kurtz said he's hesitant to believe Wal-Mart has given up for good. "They're saying now that they're pulling out completely, but I'm going to wait and see if in fact they are," he said.  "To be blunt, I don't always trust what they tell us because they don't tend to be forthright with what their plans are in any particular community."

Kurtz said the company took an "arrogant attitude" by never sitting down with the community to look at other options for a Saranac Lake store.   "They've never shown any interest in doing anything other than what they want," he said.

If the Wal-Mart deal is truly dead, Kurtz said his group will remain involved in bringing appropriate retail development to the community. "We've got a little breathing room and we can really move ahead now that an oversized supercenter proposal is off the table," he said.

WNBZ attempted to reach the two main representatives of Citizens for the Advancement of Retail Development, the local Wal-Mart support group, on Friday.  A message for Rick Gonyea has yet to be returned.  And there was no answer at the home phone for Linda Piro. 

We also tried to reach Cliff Donaldson, who played a key role in bringing Wal-Mart's proposal to the table, but he was out of town on Friday.

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