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Wal-Mart will land at Poulsbo’s Olhava

POULSBO — The first anchor tenant at the Olhava development will be a Wal-Mart, a company spokesperson confirmed this week.

Since early January, the identity of the first retailer expected to sign on at the 216-acre development has been in question. Wal-Mart originally applied for a pre-application conference with the City of Poulsbo on Jan. 8 and then for a Type II site permit on March 11. However, until recently the name on all the official documents was First Western Investments, developers of the Olhava property. Wal-Mart had asked that its name be kept anonymous for the time being.

Amy Hill, spokesperson for Wal-Mart, confirmed this week that the mystery tenant is in fact a Wal-Mart.

“We are part of the development,” Hill said. “We have been looking in the area and this makes a lot of sense. It’s an under-represented area and we feel it will be a real asset to the community.”

The proposed 19.8-acre development includes three-phases of construction, beginning with a 150,000-square-foot space. Hill said the company would love to begin construction this summer for a mid- to late-2004 opening. The primary space will include commercial retail space, a quick lube and oil change station, outdoor retail space and about 747 parking stalls.

Future construction includes a gas service station (proposed March 2004) and an additional 68,600-square-feet of retail space and an extra 334 parking stalls (proposed between 2005 and 2010).

The first phase of construction will add 150 jobs to the area, while the second phase will add about 100 more.

Unless there is an appeal, the decision to include Wal-Mart in the Olhava development is administrative within the City of Poulsbo Planning Department. The retail space’s specifications already underwent extensive public process in drafting the Olhava Master Plan.

This news comes on the heels of a recent campaign against Wal-Mart among local business people that began before the name was even known. A petition against the store has already garnered more than 300 signatures. The group also has scheduled a 7 p.m. April 23 meeting at the Poulsbo Library to discuss their opposition to the store.

“I don’t know what good the meeting will be now other than to let people voice their opinions. We’ve been slam dunked,” group spokesperson Muriel Williams said Tuesday morning upon learning that the development was a Wal-Mart. “I remember years ago I went to all those Olhava meetings and hearing them talk about all the good it’s going to do in the community. A lot of people bought into it, but I never did.”

But not everyone in the business community is feeling doom and gloom over the announcement. The Greater Poulsbo Chamber of Commerce board recently decided to not take a stance on the possibility of a Wal-Mart. Chamber President Brad Camp said while board members are interested in supporting responsible business practices, they are not interested in passing judgement before a business has a chance to show its business practices.

“The Chamber of Commerce is what it is, a chamber of commerce, we represent businesses — both small and large — and to come out in opposition to a specific business would probably not be productive,” Camp explained, noting that Chamber members seemed to be split when it came to the issue of whether Wal-Mart would be a positive or negative to the business community.

Camp also said that he feels Poulsbo has a lot of positive attributes to its business community that will likely mean Wal-Mart will not have the negative impact many feel it will.

“Our town is a great little town and we have a great diversity of shops and I hope that people will continue to come here for that variety,” Camp said.

Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association (HDPA) President John Kuntz said his members were also split in their feelings over Wal-Mart. The group was set to meet this week to discuss the issue but Kuntz felt that the downtown area is so specialized that a Wal-Mart wouldn’t pose much competition to most stores.

Kuntz said he talked to the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce (which had previously fought and lost a battle against Wal-Mart in its community) this week. Oak Harbor representatives told Kuntz that in the long run Wal-Mart was a boon for the city because it raised sales tax revenues, which benefited the entire city. Kuntz said he saw a Wal-Mart as potentially having the same affect in Poulsbo but that ultimately how Wal-Mart affects the downtown corridor will be up to the philosophy of the City of Poulsbo.

“It’s going to keep people from going to Silverdale and it will bring that money to Poulsbo,” Kuntz commented. “If the city uses some of those taxes to reinvest in the downtown core and solve our parking problems it could be a positive. But if they let downtown go by the wayside it will be a negative.”

Hill said Wal-Mart representatives are willing to meet with any community member or group with a question or concern about Wal-Mart joining the Poulsbo business community. However, she said she feels it is now time for community members to help the development move forward in a way that will be consistent with the rest of the community.

“It’s a proper use of the site so I would hope that people would be interested more in if the store fits with the community, the real issues,” Hill said. “That the store is aesthetically pleasing. That we’re addressing traffic compatibility. Things like that.”

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