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Wal-mart plans East Side supercenter


In what would be the most significant redevelopment effort in years for the East Side, the owner of the long-vacant Eastgate Shopping Center has reached a tentative agreement with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to build a 203,000-square-foot supercenter at the northeast corner of East Euclid Avenue and East 14th Street.

The site’s owner, Eastgate LLC, whose principal is Norman Weinstein, has filed for changes to its existing planned unit development with the Des Moines Plan and Zoning Commission that would enable Wal-Mart to build the retail center there. The development plans include demolishing a number of existing structures to make way for the supercenter and planned retail outparcels.

The shopping center’s buildings, which in the past have housed a Younker’s discount store, grocery store, bank and a number of small retail stores, are now largely vacant and boarded up. Plans filed with the city indicate all of the existing structures in the plaza, with the exception of an outpatient clinic, a tire dealer and an auto parts shop, will be demolished.

“I do feel that this development will be an asset as it will be redeveloping a blighted area,” said Rick Rohlfing, a project manager with Buescher Frankenberg Associates Inc. of Washington, Mo., which is developing the site for Wal-Mart.

The Arkansas-based retailer, which continues to aggressively expand nationwide, plans to open as many as 230 additional supercenters this year, of which about 140 will be expansions of existing stores with the remainder being new construction. It currently operates about 1,500 Wal-Mart stores and about 1,400 Wal-Mart Supercenters in the United States.

Plans for the East Side supercenter, which would be the seventh in Greater Des Moines, are for a prototype store that in addition to the usual amenities would include an expanded garden center and drive-up pharmacy window, said Erik Lundy, a senior city planner. Wal-Mart plans to lease space to a gasoline retailer as well.

Wal-Mart will purchase 20.5 acres from Eastgate, contingent upon the city approving changes to the planned unit development for the site and required zoning changes, Lundy said. Eastgate will retain the outparcels for retail development next to the supercenter.

Rohlfing said Wal-Mart will not close on the property until all permits are in hand. Though a number of issues that need to be addressed with the site, there are “none that I see that can’t be overcome,” he said. If construction begins as planned in September, the store could be open by mid- to late summer 2005.

Among the buildings slated for demolition in the plaza are the original Eastgate building, a strip of retail buildings to the north, a car wash, a former Taco Bell restaurant, the former East Des Moines National Bank building, the Whylie Eye Care building, Tires Plus and B-Bop’s restaurant. The fate of the building housing Cinema III and Best Steak House is unclear because the property is now held by an estate following the death of the owner, one of the tenants said. Remaining will be be Highland Park Family Physicians, Goodyear Tire and Advance Auto Parts.

B-Bop’s owner Robert Johnson said he would like to work with the developer to keep the 1500 E. Euclid Ave. restaurant, his company’s original location, intact. The building was originally a Pester-Derby gas station and later a dry-cleaning shop prior to B-Bop’s opening 15 years ago.

“If we don’t stay right there, I’m sure we’ll be very close by,” Johnson said. “It’s been a good area for us.”

Wal-mart will be beneficial in bringing retail back to the area, said Vincent Copple, president of Whylie Eye Care Centers, who will lose his lease for his East 14th Street store if the supercenter plans proceed. Copple said Weinstein has indicated to him that there are plans for a strip mall adjacent to the supercenter, which he would consider moving into because the corner is a good location.

“We would evaluate what they want for a lease amount compared to the surrounding area,” he said.

Weinstein, who could not be reached at his office in Delray Beach, Fla., has been working for years to redevelop the property. It has been considered in the past by a number of big-box stores, most recently Shopko, but until now has been rejected by major retailers, in part because of perceptions that the area’s demographics would not support the stores, Weinstein has previously said.

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