Wal-Mart breaks ground: Dignitaries, Kenai officials gather to toss ceremonial first shovel of dirt

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

If all goes well, by March 2010 the first Wal-Mart Superstore will open its doors on the Kenai Peninsula.

Photo By Jessica Cejnar
Photo By Jessica Cejnar
People hold onto balloons with Wal-Mart's trademark happy face at the ground-breaking ceremony Monday in Kenai. Wal-Mart is scheduled to open in March 2010.

Monday's ground breaking of the Wal-Mart site, in the grassy field next to Pizza Hut on the Kenai Spur Highway, was three years in the making, said Jennifer Spalding, public affairs manager for Washington and Alaska.

The overall complex will take up about 200,000 square feet, she said, and include a drive-through pharmacy and a full-service grocery store, not to mention the 250 to 300 job positions available, she said. There also will be outlying buildings to accommodate other businesses.

"We already have a lot of competing managers wanting to come to Wal-Mart," Spalding said, adding that 70 percent of the available positions will be full-time with full benefits. "We should have a store manager identified in May."

When asked what Wal-Mart's impact may be on other competitors, Spalding said prices on similar items sold dropped 20 to 30 percent before the store even opened.

"Our view is why didn't you offer the savings to your customers in the first place," she said.

In addition to offering products people may have to go out of town for, Spalding said Wal-Mart participates in the Alaska Grown program and will offer local products to save money, as well as novelty items and books by local authors for tourists.

At the moment, the first task is to clear their property this fall. Roger Hickel, of Roger Hickel Contracting Inc., said his firm will start clearing Wednesday. Hickel, who built and remodeled the Kenai Safeway building, bid on three Wal-Mart projects but wasn't the lowest bidder. After being invited to bid again, Wal-Mart accepted his bid and made their own building designs and set their own schedule.

"They allowed enough time for us to build in the manner we want to build it," he said, adding he hopes to get enough of an interior footing in place to shut the job down for the winter. "(We're) starting steel erection in April '09. Completion and the grand opening is scheduled for March 2010."

Hickel also said local sub-contractors will work on the project, and he'll use as much local building materials as possible.

The structure will incorporate local color, Spalding said, including beige tones on the exterior as well as exposed timber on the outside.

Members of the Kenai City Council, Mayor Pat Porter and Wal-Mart dignitaries used golden shovels to dig the first hole for the construction project.

Before Porter used her shovel, she donned her blue Wal-Mart vest and name tag. She said the community anxiously has awaited the falling of trees and shoveling of dirt, so much so that people would ask her and council members when Wal-Mart was coming. Now their question will be, when will Wal-Mart open, she said.

One of the good things about Wal-Mart coming to Kenai, Porter said, is that people won't have to go out of town when they want to purchase clothes.

"Wal-Mart brings economic development, job opportunities and an opportunity for us to shop locally," she said.

When Wal-Mart finally opens, Porter said she'll be at the front door.

"I'd like to be a greeter for the first day. It's one of my goals."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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