Wasco officials hope Wal-Mart brings opportunities

Wasco officials hope Wal-Mart brings opportunities

WASCO, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - While plans for Wal-Mart big box stores have drawn fire in many communities, city leaders in Wasco say response in their town has been mostly positive. They hope work will start soon on a Wal-Mart on Highway 46, and they believe it will bring more jobs and draw in more businesses.

"Delano and Tehachapi had a hard time getting these through, but through our process here in Wasco, it's been steam-lined," Vice Mayor Tilo Cortez said on Tuesday. "No objections whatsoever."

Cortez and City Manager Dan Allen say a developer came to the city about three years ago with proposals for a shopping center on Highway 46, down a bit and across from the Kmart. That proposal started a review process, including Environmental Impact Report with its required public hearings.

Allen said one of those public meetings drew such a big crowd, they held it in a church. "There was an excess of 200 people there, and we got zero comments against the EIR," Allen said.

Both men say the difference in Wasco is the public wants the jobs a Wal-Mart would bring. Wasco resident Valerie McDonough told Eyewitness News she thinks a Wal-Mart will be great, and bring real benefits. "Jobs that we need really badly," she said.

Cortez says residents tell him they want the big box store, but that view is not shared by local business owners. "I've asked many business-owners whether they want a Wal-Mart, most of them don't want the Wal-Mart because of the competition," he said.

Eyewitness News asked the owner of National Market his reaction. He owns the small grocery store on Highway 46 which opened about 60 years ago. The owner said the start-up of any big, new store takes business away from his store and other local shops.

But, Cortez insists there's room for both the small businesses and Wal-Mart. "A lot of these mom and pop shops will still have business because they deliver customer service," he said.

Wasco resident Isabel Alaniz said she wants the new Wal-Mart in Wasco, and asked if she'll still shop at the smaller stores? "Yeah, sure I'd drop in," she said.

On Tuesday Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rachel Wall said plans for the store have not changed since the project was approved in 2011. Wall said a construction schedule has not been finalized yet, and she said the project "is a Wal-Mart Supercenter."  Wasco officials say it'll be 175,000 square feet.

Allen and Cortez say the developer is putting the final touches on his plans, and they hope work can start on the site by this Fall. Cortez said the idea is for the Wal-Mart to be an anchor for a shopping center on the 91-acre site. He said there have been "discussions" about a movie theater, and city leaders would also like to see a home improvement center and other small retail in the complex.

Cortez is convinced a Wal-Mart will bring good things to Wasco. "This is going to be an anchor for our community," he said. "It's going to be the anchor point for the growth in our community. And I think as long as we stream-line and capitalize on that growth, I think it will be good for our community."