September 01 , 2007
Wal-Mart seen as anchor to Route 13 development
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Traffic flows along Route13 in South Cortland on Friday. Many feel that the Wal-Mart Supercenter that plans to open within the next two years will bring more businesses to the area.
There’s not much beating around the bush, said Cortland County Chamber of Commerce executive director Garry VanGorder.
A proposed 205,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter will likely open on Route 13 within the next two years and the impact should be substantial, according to business officials and a local developer.
“I think it’s been proven wherever Super Wal-Marts have been located around the country that they tend to attract other businesses,” VanGorder said. “I think that people might be more serious about locating businesses out there now that they know the project is moving forward.”
Town supervisor Dick Tupper agrees.
“You have to assume that, unless this Wal-Mart is not typical, that there will be other development,” Tupper said.
The project’s final approvals from the town of Cortlandville were granted Aug. 9, and a lawsuit seeking a halt to the development of the 33.7-acre parcel was dismissed the next day.
“We have had conversations, casual conversations, with other companies who’ve asked about the process here in Cortland County,” VanGorder said. “Once the place is developed, some people might be doing more than kicking tires.”
Local developer David Yaman said that development would only occur as allowed by the town’s code and by the marketplace.
“I don’t see this as a boom, but I see it as a nice, gradual growth. Hopefully, smart growth,” Yaman said. “I think we’ll have more activity there, but I also think we’re better prepared for it.”
On the Supercenter site itself, two roughly 1-acre parcels have been subdivided from the area that would be covered by the store and parking lot, and Wal-Mart intends to sell or lease them for retail, service or other commercial uses — restaurants are a prohibited use as part of a commercial Planned Unit Development zoning designation.
Spinoff development has already begun.
Lowe’s will be opening a home improvement store sometime after Wal-Mart vacates its current location on Route 13.
Lowe’s has owned the property since 2004, and has proposed a 111,200-square-foot store that would replace the existing Wal-Mart.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Cortlandville Planning Board forwarded the conditional permit and Aquifer Protection Permit applications to the county Planning Department for a recommendation.
Board Chair Kathy Wickwire said the plans would most likely be changed and reviewed again at the county level between now and the final approval.
The town’s state-mandated review of the Wal-Mart project lasted nearly two years, and numerous special meetings dealing with the details of the project’s site plan were held by the town Planning Board before the final approvals. Public hearings were held throughout the process, and members of the local environmental group Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment were active throughout each aspect of the approval process.
Tupper said that environmental concerns would be continued to be addressed as development proceeds.
“As long as we have an aquifer protection law, and a Town Board that will see that it’s followed, then we will have continued controlled development,” Tupper said.
Wickwire said the development of new sites along the Route 13 corridor, comparable to the Supercenter project, would likely receive the same kind of scrutiny given to Wal-Mart.
One possible development was proposed in January 2005 and has not been heard of since, Wickwire said.
“I think they were waiting to see what was going to happen with Wal-Mart,” Wickwire speculated.
R.B. Pittsburg LLC had proposed developing 5.6 acres of a 26 acre site for up to four restaurants, across the street and to the south of the Wal-Mart site.
“There are other large parcels of land out there and small parcels of land, and I would expect that you’ll see some smaller parcels with smaller retailers,” Tupper said, as well as an influx of family restaurants that often follow in Wal-Mart’s wake.
Just down Route 13 in Ithaca, the development of a run-of-the-mill Wal-Mart store about two years ago had a dramatic impact on the surrounding commercial corridor, said Jean McPheeters, director of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce.
Now, a Lowe’s and a Home Depot store and many other businesses have sprung up and 60 acres of city-owned property nearby is being considered for a housing development.
Ithaca adopted more environmental guidelines for the area, and McPheeters described the design guidelines as “pretty strict.”
“I think several things happened in this area. This community had not welcomed Wal-Mart for many years, but a large amount of development happened in that area because there was a change in political leadership nine, ten years ago, and the city really began to concentrate on development,” McPheeters said, pointing out the benefits from such a large taxpayer contributing to property tax revenue and the school district’s coffers.
Local developer David Yaman said much of the same can be expected for the area around the new Wal-Mart Supercenter in Cortlandville, and the effect of the existing Wal-Mart store when it was developed is further proof.
“If people will remember what it was like 15 years ago when it was just Chappell’s and Kmart and nothing else, what happens is that business attracts business,” Yaman said, adding that retail would see the biggest increase in development.
“Retail seeks its own level — they feed off each other, so when you have a block of the population shopping in one area, other retailers will come in and feed off of that and create more activity.”
Called “shadow retailers,” Yaman said these specialty shops that seem to follow Wal-Mart around include both the big guys and the little guys.
But VanGorder cautions against assuming too much.
“Let’s face it — it’s not built yet,” he said.
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Cortland economy given failing marks
Gauge of 5 indicators rates economic growth here an F over last 10 years.
Cortland County received a failing grade on overall economic growth, according to a study released Thursday.
The Business Council of New York State Inc. gave the county an F for growth in all five areas used for comparison — jobs, average wage per job, total personal income, per-capita personal income and population.
A total of half of the 62 counties in New York also received an F grade, including Tompkins, Chenango and Broome counties. Additionally, upstate New York as a whole received an F.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency reviewed the data Friday afternoon. While there was little information available online from the Business Council, she did reach a few conclusions.
Hartsock said the states with the highest grades are those that had no personal income taxes and a high percentage of immigrants and retirees.
“People age out of the work force, they retire and bring their income to states with no income taxes,” Hartsock said. “What is driving it is the number of Baby Boomers.”
In New York state, the Hudson Valley, which has a higher percentage of immigrants than the state as a whole, performed better in the Business Council grading. Immigrants are also tending to move more to West Coast and Southern states, Hartsock said.
While Hartsock said many of the factors that contributed to Cortland County’s poor rating are from state and national trends, she believes local employers can help by taking steps to increase wages.
She said salaries in Cortland County have not kept pace with the cost of living and wage increases in other areas, which puts pressure on local residents to move elsewhere for better job opportunities.
“Employers in this area need to take a look at themselves,” she said. “The salaried growth is not keeping pace with the cost of living.”
There is a potential work force shortage over the next 10 years in Central New York, and that is going to hamper growth, she said.
“Very shortly that will put pressure on employers to raise wages,” Hartsock said
Each county’s grade in the Business Council survey was determined by the amount of growth in the five areas from 1995 through 2005, and compared to the state’s average.
Gary VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, said Friday afternoon the grade for Cortland County and upstate as a whole should not come as a surprise to anyone because of the state’s high taxes and costs of doing business.
“It’s not a business friendly state by and large. If we can make it easier to do business in New York state, then we’ll see those Fs go away,” he said.
The Business Council reported New York received a D on the new index because of its 10-year rate of growth matched or exceeded the national average in only one of the five categories, which was average wage per job.
The Business Council reported Cortland County had a 3.6 percent job growth in the last 10 years, compared to the state overall, which was at 12.2 percent. The rate for the entire United States was 17 percent.
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