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Mayor says Rock Island Walmart project remains on track

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ROCK ISLAND, Illinois - Nearly four years after Rock Island announced plans for a Walmart superstore in its city, there is still no official development agreement between the city and Walmart.

A development agreement specifies what a developer will build on a property. A purchase agreement, which has been reached, only specifies that an area of land has been bought.

Rock Island's superstore is supposed to be built at the site of the former Watchtower Plaza, at 11th Street and 39th Avenue.  In December of 2015, stakes were put in the ground, showing where the company is supposed to build.

Some people, who shop on 11th Street regularly, have concerns about the project. Chief Blackhawk sign in Rock Island

"It just doesn't seem like something that's going to be done in the near future for here," Carl Hunter said.

Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley is very confident the development will get done, even though the company pulled out of recent developments in poor neighborhoods in Washington D.C. That city had spent $90 million in one instance, to develop around a proposed D.C. store.  Construction had already started at one of the Walmart sites in Washington D.C.

Mayor Pauley said he didn't think Walmart had any sort of upper hand in the negotiations.

"I don't consider it an upper hand," he said. "I just consider it part of the process...it can be any other corporation which can do the exact same thing. They go through the process. They sign the contract. I have not seen Walmart pull out of a signed contract," Pauley said.

Walmart announced in January 2016 that it was closing more than 150 stores in the U.S. alone.

Rock Island Second Ward alderman Virgil Mayberry believes the decisions to close those stores were made a long time ago.

"All of those stores that we've heard about, that happened years ago; you don't just do a knee jerk reaction and say, 'Okay, we're going to close these stores,'" Mayberry said. "It has nothing to do whatsoever with the Rock Island store."

A Walmart spokesperson backs up Mayberry's comments, saying the closures are completely separate from their future developments. 

"With the signed purchase agreement, we are pleased to take one more step in the development process of the Rock Island store. As with any multi-million dollar capital investment, there are many moving parts, and we have not yet developed a construction schedule,"  said Walmart Director of Communications, Delia Garcia.

The city still owned the land as of Tuesday, February 23, Pauley said; but Price Properties, a broker representing Walmart, has a signed purchase agreement to buy the property.  

Rock Island rejected a Freedom of Information Act request made by WQAD News 8 for a status report on the agreement between Rock Island and Walmart, saying the request involved a real estate purchase that is exempt from disclosure under Illinois law.  Their response to our request, from Rock Island City Clerk/FOIA Officer Aleisha Patchin, cited this Illinois statute allowing the exemption:

"The records, documents, and information relating to real estate purchase negotiations until those negotiations have been completed or otherwise terminated.  With regard to a parcel involved in a pending or actually and reasonably contemplated eminent domain proceeding under the Eminent Domain Act, records, documents and information relating to that parcel shall be exempt except as may be allowed under discovery rules adopted by the Illinois Supreme Court.  The records, documents and information relating to a real estate sale shall be exempt until a sale is consummated."Rock Island 2nd Ward Alderman Virgil Mayberry

Mayberry says working in situations like this one, secrecy is normal.

"That's why you have executive sessions and closed-door sessions, land acquisitions.  That's the law," Mayberry said.

In comparison, Moline Planning and Development Director Ray Forsythe said its Walmart on John Deere Road was announced in 1993, and the store opened three years later, in 1996. Davenport's Elmore Walmart was announced back in 2001. Davenport Economic Development Director Bruce Berger says it opened two years later, in 2003.

Mayor Pauley said he is talking daily with Walmart representatives.

For more coverage of the proposed Walmart in Rock Island, click here.

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