By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — While it’s still not clear when Wal-Mart will build a distribution center in Mankato, those who are hoping for its construction can see encouraging signs from the past few months.
Earlier this fall, nine Wal-Mart executives visited the site and briefed local officials, Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said. He said he couldn’t provide the details.
“At this point in time, they are the ones that would have to release any specific start date or project date information,” he said.
Even so, Hentges said the Sept. 25 visit was a positive sign.
“We’re clearly in their minds” for the distribution center, he said.
The most recent update from Wal-Mart came in 2010, when they reported, through local officials, that the distribution center was “in the near term of their five-year plan.”
Wal-Mart is also in the middle of an ambitious store-building expansion in Minnesota, according to stories last month in the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The Pioneer Press reported four Walmart SuperCenters were slated to open in October or early November — in Burnsville, Lakeville, St. Cloud and Redwood Falls.
The newspapers quoted retail analysts who said the expansion was part of Wal-Mart’s long-term strategy of over-taking Cub Foods and Target stores in Minnesota.
These new stores, along with others planned for the state, are good news for the Mankato distribution center.
Assuming that Mankato is still the site of the company’s next distribution center — as the company said in 2010 — it stands to reason that each new store creates demand for a new distribution center.
It’s a line of reasoning Hentges agrees with — “a lot depends on their corporate information relative to store buildouts,” he said — and was confirmed by a Walmart executive in an April 2011 interview with KEYC-TV.
Finally, the completion later this fall of the Highway 14 interchange at County Road 12, located close to the site, likely works in the project’s favor.
Hentges said the executives took a walk and “kicked the dirt” at the interchange.
“They reviewed the site and were very satisfied with the improvements they saw,” he said.
Wal-Mart continues to pay taxes on its Mankato land — including its $26,486 tab for the 139-acre parcel this year — and has invested a total of about $10 million into the site, including its purchase, Hentges said.
The city has estimated a Mankato distribution center would directly create between 500 and 700 jobs.