A letter of intent to purchase the former Dollar Bell store building at Rivertown Crossing on the west side of Princeton is one of the indicators that the location of a new Walmart in the development has spurred interest in adjacent lots.
That was one of the signs that interest is growing for properties near Walmart, according to real estate brokers and landowners the Union-Eagle spoke with last week about the effect of Walmart coming to Princeton.
But just how great that interest is may be difficult to precisely quantify.
Dylan Howard, owner of Realty Avenue, which has been marketing the land at the Rivertown Crossing development on the west side of the city where the new Walmart store opened Feb. 1, put it this way: “Absolutely,” interest has picked up for the unsold lots along the perimeter of Rivertown Crossing since two years ago when the city council gave the zoning go ahead for Walmart, he said.
But the interest in those outer lots has been up and down the past two years, and the interest shown since the Walmart store opened, “is less than we expected,” Howard said.
Howard then added that it’s difficult to know what is going on behind the scenes before a company reaches the announcement stage. There are a lot of steps from negotiating a sale price and completing the transaction to the final deal, Howard said.
‘Bobber is down’ at one lot
The biggest current piece of evidence of interest shown in the outlots is that a new owner could be announced this year for the building that once housed the former Dollar Bell store to the east of Walmart.
Chad Weeks, a broker with the listing firm, Arrow Companies, said last week: “We’ve had a lot of interest in Bell Centre,” as the Dollar Bell building is called. “The bobber is down,” he said, referring to his having received a signed letter of intent to purchase Bell Centre, which is owned by Sherburne State Bank. Weeks wouldn’t disclose the expiration date of the letter but said he is anticipating some action on it this coming summer. The building is close to 10,000 sq. ft. and is on a 1.24-acre lot.
Eldon Johnson, owner/operator of the local office of RE/MAX Realty which had listed the Bell Centre property for six months, until last October, also commented. “When we had it listed there was some interest in it. We found that people who follow Walmart were sniffing around.”
Among the businesses that inquired about the property were Panera Bread, as well as an auto parts chain, a couple different copy centers and two different pizza companies, Johnson said.
“It was interesting because the south side of the (Bell Centre) building was never finished off,” Johnson said. He noted that the south part has the potential for four spaces of 1,200 sq. ft. each. The building, constructed by the local Howard Homes, is highly energy efficient, equipped with active-solar and geothermal features.
Jim Patten, of the Princeton area, and who is a partner with residents Mark and Donna Walsh in owning a 50,785 sq. ft. lot that is for sale near Walmart, also commented. Interest in the property has “been positive,” though “nothing concrete,” Patten said.
“We’ve inquired of some people,” Patten continued, naming Applebee’s restaurant and Aldi grocery chain as examples. The calls were to determine what business would fit in that size of lot, Patten said.
Patten knows the owners/brokers of the adjoining unsold lots near Walmart and that they have all agreed to keep each other informed about the lot-size needs of different businesses.
Jeff Steeves with Edina Realty, also has property for sale near the new Walmart, one of them being the mini storage lot next to the Hofman Oil/BP gas station. The property, owned by Dan Schroeder, sits on a 1.71-acre lot that Steeves calls a “prime location.”
The location is next to 21st Avenue that runs past Walmart and connects to Highway 95 and First Street. Steeves said it isn’t the mini storage that is of value, but instead “the dirt,” or land the storage building sits on.
Steeves said that the situation of land being more valuable than the buildings also holds true for the nearby BP gas station, Merlin’s Restaurant and Rum River Motel. Steeves said that as a rule, owners have a point where the offered price to buy their business is too appealing to pass up. He said he can foresee Merlin’s, the gas station, and the motel all being replaced someday by redevelopment.
What makes that “dirt” so valuable now, is the fact that Walmart has located in the vicinity, Steeves said.
Steeves and Howard agreed that Walmart executives would never have decided to build in a location had they not found through research that there would be enough customer traffic to support the store. Investors value Walmart’s research and would trust that there would be enough customer traffic spill-off to support adjacent businesses, Steeves and Howard agreed.
“That’s a huge start of everything,” Steeves said about Walmart opening in Princeton.
“Walmart is like a big piece of cheese, a big piece of bait,” he added.
Steeves and Howard also offered this advice to residents who would like certain businesses to come to town: Contact the owners.
“The people in town can be just as proactive (as the real estate brokers in trying to bring more businesses in),” Steeves said. “Let’s contact them going forward. Open the (artist’s) palette for the city. Who will go into all the little boxes? The inhabitants are more important than the people who are running the city (in influencing potential clients)…”
“Shoppers have far more influence than Jeff (Steeves) or I, or the city will ever have,” Howard agreed.
“I talked to somebody who wanted a Wendy’s (Restaurant to come in),” Howard said. But they need to get on the Internet to express that to the right people, because it “doesn’t help to talk (about it) to the person at drive-up,” Howard said.
Howard also suggested that shopping locally increases the chances of bringing in more businesses. “Companies go where the customers are,” Howard explained.
There also seems to be ample interest in more businesses coming in, Howard stating – “Everybody is asking, ‘When is the next business coming in? When is an Aldi coming? When is a Caribou Coffee coming? When is a Denny’s coming?’”
Howard said he believes it is just a matter of time, that they will.
More land is also available for anchor stores to locate across from Walmart. Dan Howard and business partner Jack Gracik have 20 acres in the northwest quadrant of the interchange of Highways 169 and 95, of which 15 acres is high ground. It has not been platted but water and sewer mains are stubbed to the property.
Robert Soule has 57 acres west of the Rivertown Crossing development, lying just south of Highway 95. Soule’s son, Robert Soule Jr., says that the Soule family hired someone to calculate what structures could all fit there. The conclusion was that it could hold two big box stores, as well as a smaller third store, plus some smaller businesses on outlots.
Local residents have already been commenting on the traffic getting more difficult to navigate atop the Highway 95 bridge over Highway 169 since the new Walmart opened. What that spells for the future of traffic control at the intersection, is still to be answered. But it is definitely another sign that Walmart has made its new presence in Princeton known in a significant way.