BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Often in the dark about its progress, Town of Lockport officials received word this week that there is light at the end of the Walmart tunnel.
Construction of the proposed Walmart Supercenter will begin within the next 30 days, the retail giant confirmed Wednesday.
Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith was informed Tuesday by APD Engineering & Architecture, the Victor-based engineering firm working on the supercenter project, that Walmart had chosen the DiMarco Group of Rochester as general contractor. DiMarco has been doing site work for Walmart since this past spring.
The DiMarco Group's selection comes about nine years after the supercenter project was first introduced. Walmart received planning board approval in 2007 and bought the former Lockport Mall site on South Transit Road in December 2010. The retailer bought the South Transit property for $3.95 million from General Growth Properties of Chicago.
It's been a long time coming for the Town of Lockport.
"Nothing will please the residents of this community more than to see something up this fall," Smith said. "We've been hearing for months it would be this fall. This is the official word."
The construction project was awarded on Friday, said Amanda Henneberg, a Walmart spokesperson. Once construction begins, it typically takes about a year to complete.
Walmart has been held up by a number of legal challenges, the last one not turned away until October 2012. And then those infamous seagulls got involved, nesting on the site from March until August for the last two years, causing another delay. Because the seagulls are federally protected, Walmart couldn't move forward until they were safely removed from the site or discouraged from nesting there.
After two summers of dealing with birds, Walmart took action this spring. Buffalo Exterminating was called out to the mall site in March, to get rid of nesting materials and encourage the gulls to leave. The efforts were "effective," Henneberg said Wednesday.
All this time, Walmart wasn't always clear with the town on what was happening with the site. But now that there seems to be a rough timeline for construction, what the town hopes for with the supercenter is clear.
The Walmart Supercenter is a major component of the town's Transit North Historic Canalway Corridor. Transit North is an eight-mile stretch of retail shopping from Main Street in the City of Lockport to Tonawanda Creek Road in Pendleton. The corridor's goal is to turn South Transit into a major retail center, drawing locals who currently shop elsewhere, as well as tourists.
A Walmart Supercenter would act as an anchor store, which is a retail store that generates a great deal of traffic and attracts business to the shopping center in which it is located. The act is referred to as shadow boxing.
Lockport’s 185,209 square-foot supercenter will replace the current Walmart, located less than half a mile south of the mall site on South Transit Road. There are about 200 people working at the existing store.
Town officials have said there are parties interested in occupying the old Walmart site. Smith said Wednesday at least one department store has expressed interest.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.