A Walmart in Tacoma is moving closer to reality, as the sale of the Elks property in Central Tacoma could close by today.
The sale price, construction timeline and opening dates are still a mystery. Developer Jeff Oliphant said Thursday he’d share more information when all the paperwork is signed and legally recorded, which he hopes will happen by this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Elks Lodge No. 174 will begin work on its new building, across the street at Allenmore Golf Course. Demolition of the course’s current clubhouse will begin in two weeks, and construction of an $8 million facility will begin soon after, said Ron Forest, the Elks’ and Allenmore’s chief operating officer.
The Elks’ plans for a new facility have hinged on selling the Lodge’s 18-acre site at South 23rd Street and Union Avenue, which it has occupied since the 1960s. The Elks have worked since 2007 to find a buyer. Two other developers withdrew, and Oliphant’s company arrived in 2010. His initial plans were for a major medical complex, but that fell through.
“We needed to sell the property. We couldn’t dictate what went on it,” Forest said Thursday, adding that the Elks had turned down previous Walmart offers. “We hope the community won’t blame us if they’re unhappy with Walmart.
“We also know that the people complaining are an insignificant number compared to the 200,000 people who live in Tacoma,” he said. “Their last big supposed rally, about 12 people showed. It is a very vocal minority. The only thing that makes it big is (the newspaper).”
Last summer, members of the Central Neighborhood Council began to suspect a Walmart was in the offing. Their pursuit of answers about Oliphant’s plans, and the trouble they had finding any, led the Tacoma City Council to temporarily ban big-box stores last fall in an attempt to stop the national retailer from building.
But a state law regarding the publication of public notices provided a one-day window for the developer to submit building plans before the ban took effect. Oliphant did, and Walmart publicly announced it planned to build a 24-hour Supercenter in Tacoma – the first Walmart in the city.
The Council ended up enacting new rules for big-box stores, but the Walmart development was unaffected by them. However, the Walmart situation informed the process, with dozens of residents expressing concern over the company’s values, fair wages and traffic. At least two groups protested at the site.
Thursday, CNC board chairman Justin Leighton was disappointed.
“It’s unfortunate that it couldn’t be stopped,” he said. “We just don’t think Walmart, on several different planes, represents the values of our neighborhood.”
Now, Leighton said, the next challenges are increased traffic and the survival of the stores in nearby Tacoma Central shopping center, which include a Target and a Top Food & Drug.
The lodge must be empty by the end of June.
At Allenmore, which the Elks own, the group’s new facility will include a pro shop, a handball court and a public restaurant. It’s much smaller, reflecting a membership of about 2,000 – much fewer than the 10,000 they had in the late 1990s.
The Elks are downsizing so they can continue their tradition of service. Last year, the lodge awarded $60,000 in college scholarships, Forest said. They participate in a statewide Elks program that provides free physical therapy, at home, for children who need it but can’t afford it. And last Christmas, the lodge joined forces with Toys for Tots, Crime Stoppers and the Salvation Army.
“Not all of our members are happy” that the property will become a Walmart, Forest said. But they’re pragmatic. “Most of them understand that it is what it is.”Kathleen Cooper: firstname.lastname@example.org