The Marysville development district known as Coleman's Crossing now looks significantly different than it did six years ago before Walmart opened a 206,000-square-foot Supercenter on the city's east side.

The Marysville development district known as Coleman's Crossing now looks significantly different than it did six years ago before Walmart opened a 206,000-square-foot Supercenter on the city's east side.

"Walmart is one of the reasons that Coleman's Crossing happened in the first place," said Eric Phillips, executive director of the Union County Economic Development Partnership.

Walmart's beginning

Coleman's Crossing is home to a number of small chain businesses and locally owned eateries in several strip centers. Radiating outward from Walmart are the Union County Family YMCA and armory (home to the Army National Guard 585th Military Police Company) and other big-box retailers Best Buy and Office Depot. Most of that development, aside from the YMCA, has come in the years since Walmart moved into the building formerly occupied by Lowe's, Phillips said.

"It was tied to the armory at the time - there was no roadway that went back through that area," he said. "At the time, the armory needed a connection from Delaware Avenue to Fifth so it could have access to (U.S.) Route 33. The city actually had future transportation plans that could provide access to uses in that area, so it played into Marysville's overall plans for that thoroughfare."

With that in mind, Performance Automotive CEO Mike Dever suggested that a Honda dealership would fit well in that area, Phillips said.

"As part of that, a development company was hired, which secured other uses that could be complementary to Honda Marysville, because (Dever) ended up buying that entire property to basically market it and see the development grow," Phillips said. "Walmart, I believe, was the first usage to sign on the dotted line and Home Depot came on about the same time.

So you had those four developments - the armory, Walmart, Honda and Home Depot - they were the magnets that brought Coleman's Crossing together."

Walmart pros and cons

At the time of the property development, some residents voiced concerns about having a Walmart Supercenter in town and what sort of effect it would have on the smaller businesses in Marysville's Uptown district. City leaders then organized a town hall meeting to discuss the pros and cons of Walmart.

"Unbelievably, we had 185 people come out to that meeting," Phillips said. "Ninety percent of them said, 'We want a Walmart.' There was some concern in the community about Walmart's impact on the mom-and-pops in Uptown, and other existing businesses such as McAuliffe's (Ace Hardware) and Kmart.

"I understand those concerns because sometimes it does make it harder for small businesses to stay open when Walmart has very good prices on a lot of the things they sell," he said. "But the majority of people in the community said they wanted a Walmart, so they went forward with the Supercenter."

Once it opened, nearly 1,200 people applied for approximately 250 new positions created by the new Supercenter.

As it does in many communities with the opening of a new store, Walmart donated about $26,500 to local community programs, including Memorial Hospital, the Union County Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, Fairbanks High School, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Union County Family YMCA and Marysville's Downtown Beautification program.

With the anchors of Coleman's Crossing in place, shoppers and businesses started to arrive in greater numbers, Phillips said.

"It definitely had an impact from the standpoint of bringing people to town," he said. "Once that whole shopping area was built, which was about 700,000 square feet between City Gate and Coleman's Crossing, the Walmart did bring in a lot more people from outside the area. That also started a restaurant boom - there were a lot of people in that area that you hadn't seen before, so our restaurants had a boom at the same time."

In addition to fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King, other restaurants now found in Coleman's Crossing include Buffalo Wild Wings, Asian Café, Applebee's and Mango's Mexican Grill & Bar.

Growing infrastructure

Developing the Coleman's Crossing area was also the city of Marysville's first experience with creating a tax increment financing (TIF) district, which was used to fund the infrastructure needed to make Coleman's Crossing grow.

"TIFs are basically a financing tool that government agencies can use to develop an area's infrastructure," Marysville finance director Jenny Chavarria said. "The attractive part to developers is that they don't have to worry about putting that infrastructure in there themselves.

"Property taxes from the area go specifically into that TIF fund, and then you use those to pay the debt on the infrastructure," she said.

While the funds channeled through the TIF will shape the infrastructure surrounding Walmart and Coleman's Crossing in the years to come, a recent discovery could speed up that growth.

"We combined the two areas (Coleman's Crossing and City Gate) into one TIF, and we have found that the values of the properties on the Coleman's Crossing side weren't matching," Chavarria said. "Working with the school district, we filed appeals of the values on the Coleman's Crossing side, including the Walmart, to get those property values up.

"We've reached a settlement with a lot of the property owners, and by doing that, the TIF is now starting to generate enough funds to start paying on the principal," she said. "The revenues are now coming in like they should be."

Chavarria said the total debt resulting from the infrastructure for the two areas surrounding Walmart is about $11.98 million. Since the TIF was created in 2004, Marysville has only been able to make interest payments on the debt; now it can start to tackle the principal, Chavarria said.
"Probably in the next year or two, we'll be able to roll those notes into some long-term debt and start paying off the principal with that," she said.

As Coleman's Crossing continues to grow around Walmart and the center's other anchors, some businesses may come and go, Phillips said, but the Supercenter's presence ultimately has been making Marysville's east side thrive.

"Walmart may have hurt some smaller businesses with the Supercenter, but it was a tough choice to make. You value the business you already have in your community, but at the same time, do you stay where you are or do you grow? And do you say that you can only have four barbershops in Marysville, or that you can only have one newspaper, or X amount of restaurants?

"I think it's important to note that we understand that it does challenge our smaller businesses, but what those businesses have to offer, in many cases, is more service, or even better service, with a more personal touch. That's where their advantages and niches are."