The announcement last week that Walmart would be an anchor tenant of the proposed Dirigo Plaza shopping center is dredging up old, familiar feelings in Westbrook.
Following the news that the retailer would build a 155,000-square-foot store in the plaza destined for the Pike Industries property between Main Street and Larrabee Road, passionate discussion popped up on social media, the American Journal’s websites and within the community.
Many expressed disappointment with the announcement, with higher hopes for the project, and concern that the store would take customers away from small businesses.
However, those who have defended the project say Walmart, along with the other unnamed tenants at the plaza, would bring much-needed jobs and tax revenue to Westbrook.
Veronica Bates, a Westbrook School Committee member who is administrator of a Westbrook community Facebook page, said this week that after reading the hundreds of comments posted to the site, she’s “torn.”
But for city officials, the project shows promise, especially at a site that has been used as a gravel pit for decades. Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city administrator for business and community relations, said this week that he hasn’t received any calls or emails in response to the announcement.
His hope is that the plaza, including Walmart, can bring in traffic and people to the city, who might not normally shop in Westbrook.
He also said there seems to be some misconception from residents who believe the city administration is responsible for choosing the plaza’s tenants.
“As a permitted use, the landowner and developer have certain legal rights and latitude and they determine what the market needs and what can be sustained at a location like this, and in this case the law allows them to do it,” he said.
Some supporters, such as WLOB radio host Ray Richardson, say the negativity surrounding the Walmart announcement comes down to “snobbery.”
“I’m thrilled that they’re doing this,” he said. “An honest job is a good job no matter what the job is. Maine people need jobs.”
Richardson was also involved in the previous Walmart effort, at one time collecting signitures in support of the project.
The next scheduled Planning Board meetings in review of Dirigo Plaza are Tuesday, May 3, and Tuesday, May 17.
On the proposed site plan for Dirigo Plaza in Westbrook, Walmart would be located in “Building E,” directly on the right side of the railroad tracks that split the north and south campuses.