Walmart plans to fill voids in north Omaha

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July 12th, 2012

Omaha, NE – A number of noticeable development projects have sprung up in north Omaha since 2008. They include a discount supermarket chain and several financial institutions. Now, Walmart is announcing its plans to build a supercenter in the area. And it may come as a relief in an area marked with high unemployment and a limited number of full-service grocery stores.

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Future home of Walmart on the corner of 50th St. and Ames Ave. in north Omaha. (Photo by Angel Martin)

Murphy White sits at a bus stop in north Omaha with his walking cane beside him. White has lived in Omaha for the past 25 years. He said the new Walmart slated for construction on the corner of 50th St. and Ames Ave. is a good thing because the neighborhood has few all-in-one shopping options. “People in that neighborhood need a store like that because they don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said.

Parts of north Omaha are currently categorized as food deserts. People living in the area often have limited access to full-service grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Only two grocery stores, including a Baker’s and Phil’s Foodway can be spotted when driving between 72nd St. and 30th St. on Ames Ave. But at a press conference late spring, Walmart announced plans to build a supercenter right in the area.

The store will be located in State Senator Brenda Council’s 11th legislative district. Council’s worked on legislation designed to decrease food deserts in north Omaha and across the state. Last year, Council’s bill, which would provide financial assistance for intervention programs and incentives for retailers, passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Dave Heineman. Council said she hopes the new supercenter will provide more options for people living in the area.

“We lost a very vital part of our grocery outlets when the Baker’s store closed a number of years ago,” Council said. “We’ve been trying to encourage that type of full service grocery store to relocate in north Omaha,” she said.

“Walmart will fill a serious void that has existed,” she said, “in terms of ready access to fresh and affordable foods … in that sector of the north Omaha community.”

Council said despite north Omaha’s high poverty rates, Walmart decided to invest $30 million in the area. Walmart officials said people in this underserved part of the city need and want the services they offer, and added the store will seek tax increment financing for this project.

Omaha city council member Ben Gray welcomed Walmart officials to his district at the press conference. Gray said for the past three to five years, he and other city representatives have been working to make this happen.

“We had to send a message that north Omaha was open for business,” Gray said. “We had to do it in a way that was visible as well as with behind-the-scenes work,” he said. The “visible work was done and the behind the scene work continues to get done,” Gray said.

“At the end of the day it’s about investment in the community, building that community, creating jobs in that community, but not only creating jobs but creating opportunities for entrepreneurship,” he said.

The Walmart project will create about 275 jobs, after it’s built.

Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Research at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, said “Anything that encourages new investments throughout the Omaha metropolitan area and growth and economic opportunity will affect the unemployment rate (and) will benefit the unemployment rate.”

Back at the bus stop, White said he hopes more development projects follow Walmart’s lead to the area.

They “will probably bring other businesses down here too,” White said. “Usually other businesses follow Walmart,” he said, and “bring other things, to get people shopping and working.”

Walmart is scheduled to open in 2014.

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