Lents neighbors learn of WalMart improvement plans

While some neighborhoods have negatively and vigorously campaigned against the national retailer, see how the store’s executives have adopted many remodeling suggestions. And, find out who the LNA honored, as he retires from its board …

Nick Christenson, President of the Lents Neighborhood Association, welcomes people to the monthly meeting, and introduces executives from WalMart.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While WalMart-bashing seems to be all the rage in Portland and other communities, executives working on the expansion and remodeling of the Eastport Plaza store for the last year-and-a-half got nods of approval from Lents neighbors at their meeting a few weeks ago.

Not a newcomer to the Lents area, the Eastport Plaza store is now about 15 years old, and in need of a facelift.

“With this, they’re expanding this store to add groceries,” said neighborhood chair Nick Christiansen. “We’ve discussed walkability issues, bike access, and parking, and asked for additional lighting. People from WalMart are here to show their new, updated plans.”

Christiansen added, “Mayor Adams did lobbying on the part of the neighborhood to help WalMart consider a design that would look something like East Portland.”

WalMart spokesperson Jennifer Spalk discusses the improvements, the planned expansion, and the changes coming to the Eastport Plaza store.

Spokesperson Jennifer Spalk said their contractors, putting the final touches on construction applications, and would tweak them through May and June.

“We’ll be keeping the store open during construction,” Spalk said “during the three month construction period. Then, we’ll be adding new employees.”

When finished, the store will be 21,500 sq ft, she noted.

It will feature two entrances facing 82nd Avenue of Roses, and a third entry facing S.E. Holgate Boulevard. The building will feature more glass on the exterior walls. Shoppers will find permeable pathways and perhaps in the parking lot.

Some of the several illustration boards on display, depicting the planned new look of the Lents WalMart store.

Also incorporated will be bicycle facilities. “We’re installing bike racks, with a canopy over the top and solar panels – it will be lit at night by solar energy,” Spalk pointed out.

“We listened to you, our customers,” Spalk continued, “and added a ‘Grab and Go’ concept to the design. Instead of walking all the way through the store, you’ll find commonly-purchased items near the Holgate entrance.”

Asked how foods stocked in the grocery section are chosen, the store’s manager said that about 75% of the products are selected by the Arkansas headquarters, and 25% are picked locally.

“Do you ship in produce?” asked a neighbor.

“Actually, it only makes sense to buy locally; it’s fresher and it saves shipping costs,” the manger replied. “We’re the largest agricultural purchaser in the State. It is a win-win situation.”

Asked if the store would allow the neighborhood association to install a Community Bulletin Board, Spalk replied, “We’ll do that for you – and give you a grant to purchase it, and develop and keep up the content. That is a suggestion from the Mayor’s office. A budget is set aside for this already.”

Neighbors look over the revised plans for their WalMart store, and ask questions of the company executives.

After the meeting, the neighborhood association president, Nick Christiansen, said “We’ve had great discussions with WalMart. They showed us original designs, and asked us to comment.”

About six months later, Christensen said, WalMart officials came back with proposals “which we found awesome. Their management actually listened. And, it was good to hear them say that they appreciated that we spelled out what we wanted in the store; we held a positive dialogue.”

When other communities organize to protest anything related to WalMart, we asked Christensen about their approach.

“I don’t see how yelling and protesting helps anything. The store is there; before it was an Albertson’s store – another national chain. It looks like they are working the store good for us in Lents – and will be adding up to 85 jobs.”

When we mused that this process of collaboration seems unprecedented, Christensen responded, “What a concept! Thoughtful dialogue and discussion to effect change in the community. Isn’t this is the way we’re supposed to do things in Portland – having constructive public involvement? Hopefully we’re setting a good example for the rest of the city.

Lents neighbors applaud, as LNA President Nick Christensen gives Clint Lenard a certificate of thanks for his years serving on their board – and decades of service to the Lents Neighborhood.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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