Walmart meeting reports

Four reports so far: MANA, Patch, Dean Tarrell's Tweets, Jim Smith's notes.

1.) From MANA:

A.) Re: our November 2 meeting, we are typing up our notes about the meeting and will share those in the very near future.  Thank you all for a great meeting!  If you have questions or comments, please email  [See their blog for]  a few images shared by the Selig and Walmart representatives who attended the meeting. Click to enlarge. Please note that these are concepts and not finalized versions. Your feedback is welcome.

B.) Where are we on the Suburban Plaza Development Plan?

2.) Video of the meeting available at North Druid Hills Patch together with comments from readers and an informal poll. 

3.) Tweets from the meeting by Dean Tarrell

4.) Detailed notes of the proceedings with editorial commentary from CHCA resident Jim Smith:

Steve Selig - Owner of Suburban Plaza
Scott Selig - Son & co-Owner
Bill Stogner - Project Manager and more...
Greg Catoe - LEED-certified engineer working on remodel of remaining portion
Phil Rydel - ??
Glen Watkins - Walmart Regional Manager of development or ???

Brief remarks by Steve Selig. Atlanta native. G'father Ben Massell built Suburban in 1960. They build to own, not sell to outsiders. Selig will stil own the land and Walmart will own the building. Catchphrase "You can never do wrong by doing right". Unfortunately for him, he finished with the comment that he didn't think this would impact traffic at the intersection much since the mall already exists. Kinda got folks laughing and gave them a heads up on his mindset.

Stogner ran most of the presentation. Some other stores who have expressed interest in the site IF Walmart is built = Staples, HH Gregg, Michael's, Home Goods, Dick's Sporting Goods, L.A. Fitness.

Plan calls for tearing down everything between Piccadilly and Medlock Rd.. Nobody (self included) thought to ask for a list of the stores that will be displaced.

Walmart will be approx. 150,000 sq ft. Current zoning for entire development would allow up to 500~800,000 sq ft ?

Land is already zoned C2. Only ordinance holdup is need for parking variance. Current code requirement is 5.5 parking spots per 1000 sq ft. Livable Communities Initiative (LCI) proposal before Dekalb Commissioners proposes 4 per 1000. They are asking to only provide 3.9 per 1000. Walmart on Howell Mill Rd is built to 5.5 per 1000, at peak usage on Saturday mornings, it operates at 2.6 per 1000, so lower number is not necessarily an issue. Most parking will be under the store with some spaces across the front for handicap access.

Truck deliveries will enter mall off of Church, behind existing mall building, drive along backside of mall to loading bays at Walmart and back in. Typically, 8 trucks per day with different product mixes (groceries, electronics, clothing etc.). Normal procedure is to drop off trailer to be unloaded and drive off immediately with previous trailer, usually filled with recycleables from store. They recycle all cardboard, paper, plastic, wood pallets and day old fruits & veggies. Fruits and veggies typically go to farms to be used as feedstock. (didn't ask about food bank).

LCI standards are to build retail with 1) minimal parking at all, and 2) with bulk of parking NOT in front of store, hence the underground parking. Walmart is getting more and more into "Just in Time" inventory management, meaning they keep VERY little stock in back of stores or on trailers in parking lot and try to move merchandise straight from truck to shelves, so back of store is much smaller than front retail space.

The remodeling of the entire mall site will include:

  •  a boundary of trees;
  • full perimeter sidewalks (code reqmt, I believe);
  • 60,000 sq ft of new greenspace and plantings;
  • new facing on all remaining buildings;
  • rebuilt walkway with skylights and sidewalk lamps across the front of all buildings;
  • an effort to marry the finish on the remodeled buildings to the finish on the Walmart (work in progress)
  • monument signage
  • bike racks in multiple places

They have asked Emory/Clifton Corridor TMA to bring the CLIFF to Walmart (big surprise) and say they plan to work with the CCTMA as plans get further along for the MARTA spur to the Clifton Corridor and beyond, progress.

Misc. Notes:

  • They will split the Winn Dixie in half. Half will hopefully become an L.A. Fitness, with additional "decked" parking behind.
  • Pizza Hut building will get remodeled.
  • Big Lots is planning to stay at least temporarily, but expect competition from Walmart to force exit.
  • Performing a traffic study of 10 surrounding intersections at Dekalb County's request. NOT required. Purely for info for planning. Should be finished and available to public in approx. 2 weeks.
  • Stormwater Detention for Walmart will be underground vault, with full code compliance on filtration of oil & gas etc. Rest of mall will NOT get new stormwater handling since parking lot not needed to be dug up.
  • Walmart is leader in environmental retail building because of the financial savings coupled  with goodwill. Building will have skylights and light-level controlled LED lighting; white reflective roof; and foundation will be built with ground up remains of demo'ed buildings, so nothing will be sent to the dump. Walmart engineers not present, so no word on whether LEED certification will be sought. Per Catoe, Selig will not be LEED because only redoing facades of remaining buildings, not interiors.
  • Uncertain as to hours of operation. Doesn't want to be tied to closing earlier than other competitors are allowed to stay open. CVS is 24/7 but Publix & Kroger close at 11?, so quite possible won't be 24/7 operation. Memorial Drive is NOT 24/7.
  • Refused to say when trucks would start arriving, due to need to get produce in early before store opens. Not set in concrete.
  • Most urban Walmarts do NOT sell firearms, but do sell ammunition so that hunters etc. can stop in on way out of town etc. 
  • Full mall remodeling will finish with possibly up to 800 new jobs, p/t & f/t.

Questions asked etc....

  1. why not N. DeKalb Mall - for whatever reason, Walmart believes this is a better location. Also turned down site next to Home Depot. if willing to sink $10 Million into underground parking, (approx. $20,000 per parking space typical cost), must have strong reasons.
  2. Isn't this too close to other groceries/other Walmarts/ etc. ? Studies by Home Depot and Walmart have proven that they can build successful stores at 3~5 mile intervals. They mostly compete with each other that way. Already undersell Kroger & Publix on most grocery items.
  3. Will they have a Garden Center? No. They will sell a few tools like shovels etc.and carry potting soil, but no separate entrance and no plants.
  4. Will their dumpsters be noisy? All of Walmart's trash and recycling management occurs inside store.Compactor pushes straight into dumpster, no exterior access into dumpster. Compactor is extremely quiet. Can't hear it over normal conversation level.  All recycling is bundled and put into trailers from inside store. 
  5. Security in parking area? they use cameras, plainclothes inside and outside store and work closely with Dekalb PD. Footage from video cameras is made available to law enforcement for investigation of off-site(non-Walmart property) crimes.
  6. When ? After get parking variance (?? weeks/months), 4~6 months design, 2~3 months permitting, then construction can begin.
  7. Selig has NOT met with current tenants yet, but will once final deal with Walmart is reached (ie. after parking variance granted). All tenants have termination clause if Selig rebuilds mall.
  8. WHY NOT Trader Joes or Whole Foods ? Asked each of them 3 times and was blown off each time with NOT INTERESTED. TJ's is apparently not doing as well as expected in Atlanta. Too much competition...
  9. Built with 5.5 per 1000 sq ft = 1788 parking spaces. Asking for 1269 spaces which is 3.91/1000 sq ft. Currently, Suburban has 3.89 / 1000 sq ft.

The meeting was hosted by the folks from Medlock Area Neighborhood Association and they did an EXCELLENT job at handling the Q&A and keeping the tone of the meeting very civil. More info and pictures will be posted on their website at
 MANA also asked folks who have questions to post them to their website so that they can be organized and presented to Selig & Walmart and then have replies posted on the site. ALSO, any organizations/neighborhoods who want to meet with Selig/Walmart should contact MANA so that they can pass that info along as well.

Personal OPINION

    Traffic is the main concern I have with this project. Walmart has come a long way since Sam Walton started. They haven't closed a modern design ("super-store") since 1986, so that's not really a worry. Walmart is the largest retailer of organic foods in the country. They heavily donate to local charities. Gun sales are a red-herring as folks who drop $300 to $500 on a handgun or rifle or shotgun aren't the ones who are shooting people in parking lots. Selling guns will not increase crime. That said, it sounds like they are willing to not sell guns, just ammunition, so that's should be a non-issue.

This project could potentially jumpstart any amount of redevelopment along Church St. and L'ville Highway and is probably the last and best chance for redevelopment of this mall. If this plan fails to be acted on, pretty much nothing else short of a total rebuild at a much higher density will ever be proposed and traffic will still be an issue. I'm not a huge fan of Walmart, what with their history of seriously impacting local stores in many communities (minimal impact here, and several business owners were happy to see them) and claims against them of oppressive salary structures and sexual discrimination but I frankly don't see an alternative.

    However, all of those pluses mean nothing if they can't figure out how to get the intersection improved by the state/county powers-that-be AND prevent/cut-down on cut-through traffic to be generated by the redeveloped mall and Walmart.

My $.02.


Jim Smith