Wal-Mart not idle for long

By Derek Albert

newstnews@bellsouth.net

ST. MARTINVILLE — Though its doors closed four months ago, the old Wal-Mart building may soon be bustling once again.

Monday afternoon city and parish officials gathered to witness the title transfer of the 43,000-square-foot facility from the Wal-Mart corporation to the city of St. Martinville.

Chad Nora, Wal-Mart regional director, has worked closely with Mayor Thomas Nelson for the past 18 months to donate the facility to the city. Nora began his Wal-Mart career in 1987 as a manager at the St. Martinville location.

“St. Martinville will always be a part of our Wal-Mart family,” Nora said. “We know that you (St. Martinville residents) shop our stores around Acadiana. I made a personal commitment that as long as I have breath in my body and I’m in this role, we’ll continue to serve this city just as we did when we were over here.”

Nelson announced that plans have been proposed to rejuvenate part of the facility with an Evangeline Downs off-track betting parlor.

“We will reap the benefit from sales tax,” Nelson said. “It will bring 30 to 40 jobs and we’ll get 1 percent of the off-track betting. After the first year, we should see $200,000.”

Nelson drew applause when he said he expects to use the funds that the city receives from the new venture to supplement city employees’ salaries.

Nelson said an impact study will be soon underway to verify among other things that public funds will not be used to jump start the project. He assured the crowd that Evangeline Downs will completely fund the renovation that could cost more than $2.5 million.

If the project runs smoothly, the mayor said he expects two to three months to finalize the impact study and possibly another three months for Evangeline Downs to make improvements to the facility before opening the doors.

Though Evangeline Downs will be a shot in the arm for the community, Nelson said at least one other business has discussed sharing the facility. He described several plans to divide the store and the large parking lot for future retail business to augment economic growth.

“We ought to accept all proposals that we can get and come back and see what would be best for our community,” Nelson suggested.

At the city council meeting following the presentation, the aldermen discussed their thoughts on the facility.

“It is real inconvenient that it is not there anymore,” said Councilman Craig Prosper. “As good as it is, it is heartbreaking that we are losing such a good part of our community.”

Prosper said the loss of the 25-year-old business has dealt a blow to residents who would walk to Wal-Mart on a daily basis to purchase essential goods.

Councilman Mike Fuselier said he is not a proponent of gambling. As a matter of fact, he served as the chairman of the St. Martin Parish Coalition Against Gambling, but he is advocating a retail replacement at the facility.

“Whether it (gambling) be here or two miles outside of St. Martinville, it is here,” he said. “I would really like to see a lot of retail and offer things that people need on a daily basis.”

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