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Wal-Mart looks to sell land

Corner at 182nd, Powell may become retail center

Gresham neighborhood leaders once again sat at a table Monday evening, Jan. 14, with the same people who represented Wal-Mart in a two-year battle ending with the retailer giving up on a supercenter in Gresham.

'Does anyone remember the last neighborhood meeting we had on this project?' Attorney Gregory Hathaway asked, drawing laughter, at the beginning of the meeting at City Hall. 'I'll never forget it.'

Hathaway's jest underscored the contentiousness of past struggles to develop the 11-acre parcel near the corner of Southeast 182nd Avenue and Southeast Powell Boulevard.

The first development featured a QFC grocery store that went out of business in a year. Then Wal-Mart purchased the land with plans to build a supercenter. That plan won initial approval from the city, but was later rejected amid community outcry. The firestorm reached the state Land Use Board of Appeals, which sent it back to the city. A second rejection by a Gresham hearings officer in May was the final straw for Wal-Mart.

The major difference this time is that Hathaway, along with PacLand Development Consulting Services, does not speak for Wal-Mart. Instead, they are representing Real Property Resources, which has a contract to purchase the land from Wal-Mart with one caveat: Real Property Resources must have assurance that it will be allowed to develop before it becomes the legal owner. If the deal does not go through, Wal-Mart could sit on the empty land indefinitely.

'Right now it's abandoned, and I don't know what goes on there at night,' Hathaway said after the meeting, pointing out that the 40,000-square-foot building that once housed QFC is a graffiti magnet. 'It needs to be developed so that it's an asset to the community.'

Real Property Resources is in the pre-application process to develop a new retail center. A large lot on the building's west side would be lined with six new retail stores, and a three-story, 27,000-square-foot office building faces Powell Boulevard on the edge of the east lot. An existing strip of businesses on the east edge of Southwest Highland Drive is not part of the proposal.

Although the fight with Wal-Mart occasionally evoked class warfare, the supercenter was ultimately rejected because of city code violations, and traffic was a key factor.

Hathaway said Real Property Resources views traffic issues at the location as a citywide problem, particularly with the annexation of Pleasant Valley to the south. Real Property Resources is willing to share in the cost burden of resolving traffic problems, Hathaway said, but cannot describe specifics until the completion of a new traffic study, which is required as part of the application.

Tenants are another unanswered question. Hathaway said a major national fitness company has expressed interest in the former grocery store, but said no further details will be available until letters of intent from tenants are in hand.

Hathaway said the plan is 'less intense' than a Wal-Mart supercenter, and that partnering with community leaders will be crucial to its success.

The next steps are a closed pre-application conference between Real Property Resources and the city, set for Wednesday, Jan. 16, to discuss the intricacies of code allowances. Then, in early spring, Hathaway said he hopes to meet with neighborhood leaders on more formal terms, at which time he said it would be 'fabulous' if there are letters of intent from tenants, but that 'they will come when they come.'

Although the new plan is in its earliest stages, Suzan Wells, president of the Southwest Neighborhood Association, said she likes the proposal, and believes it has a good chance to succeed. But she was not offering unconditional support.

'There's definitely some questions about who the tenants might be,' Wells said.