Hermantown students sang the National Anthem at the Walmart ribbon cutting event under the direction of Ken Ahlberg.
Walmart completed the year-long expansion of its Hermantown store with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. A large crowd of community leaders, company associates and shoppers were on hand for the event.
General Manager Chad Leppi and his staff were happy to have the project completed after more than 12 months of construction work that required patience by them and their customers. Most of the work went smoothly, but on Jan. 4, the store had to close for 24 hours because of a fire inside the building.
Those who have followed the Walmart saga in Hermantown know that patience has been the key component of this project for over six years.
After months of debate on whether the expansion of the existing store on Mall Drive, built in 1992, needed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to become a Super Walmart, the Hermantown City Council approved the project moving forward without it. The vote was taken on Feb. 17, 2005. Plans called for the larger supercenter, roughly 200,000 square feet, to be built behind the existing store.
Once completed, the old location would be torn down and used for parking.
For the next several years the project sat idle as Walmart officials dealt with traffic flow concerns by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and other environmental issues, including stormwater runoff into Miller Creek. City staff was often questioned by the public as to when work would start. It was common for this newspaper to field phone calls and e-mails on the topic.
“We have been told it is coming, soon,” was often the response.
Last summer construction work finally began on expanding the WalMart store. The project had been scaled down for its supercenter status. Instead of tearing down the existing building, it was remodeled and expanded.
The new store boasts 182,000 square feet, which is an expansion of 67,500 feet. It will add 85 new jobs and bring the workforce at the Hermantown location to nearly 300 associates.
“I’m happy to be part of this expansion,” Leppi said. He started with the company back in 1992 as a stockman at the store. “We now have the opportunity to provide additional jobs and career opportunities to the community.”
The new store has over 30 merchandise departments. Additional features with the expansion include a full-line grocery with a bakery and deli. There is also a pharmacy with a drive-thru service, sub sandwich restaurant and hair salon.
Leppi thanked all those involved with the project over the past year. He said it was great to be able to finally have the store open and ready for customers.
“We have a loyal customer base, and some have been shopping here since our original opening in 1992,” Leppi said. “We think they’ll love the new, easy-to-shop layout of the store and appreciate the savings we offer on the products they need.”
There have been times when WalMart stores have met resistance in the local business community, but the Hermantown Area Chamber of Commerce has felt the discount retailer to be a great asset to the area.
“We celebrate the expansion of the Hermantown Walmart and its impact in our community as the No. 1 employer, “the chamber’s Executive Director Mike Lundstrom said. “We are appreciative of the revenue this organization brings to our community in sales and property taxes. The store will serve this region as a destination of choice, and its beautiful architectural design adds to our area business landscape.”
WalMart gave out $10,000 to local organizations during the ceremony, including $1,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank, $2,000 to Woodland Hills, $2,000 to the Hermantown School District, $2,000 to the Boy Scouts of America and $3,000 to the Hermantown Volunteer Fire Department.
Leppi praised Clint Buchite, HVFD fire chief, and members of the department, for the quick response during their fire in January.
Hermantown Chamber Executive Director Mike Lundstrom spoke at the event.